Listening to Gardeners Question Time I was shocked to hear the venom with which virtually everyone regards Spanish bluebells. In the wild, yes, absolutely, they are to our delicate native bluebell what the grey squirrel is to the red. If they are going to be anywhere near our dainty wildflowers, where they might hybridise, you’re darn tootin’ they need to go – but in the average back yard are they really such a pariah?
Okay, so if I was designing a garden from scratch it’s unlikely I’d include Spanish bluebells. They’re bold and brassy and can frankly show some pretty thuggish behaviour. But I’m not designing a garden from scratch, I’m gently evolving one from things the previous people put in there.
One of the many plants I’ve inherited that I probably wouldn’t have chosen is, yes, the Spanish Bluebell, and yet I find it hard to work up the kind of fury I hear from – well, everyone.
For a couple of weeks each year, these little blue and white striped weeds push up their thick little stems and bloom their hearts out – and I love to see them. The blue is intense, mirroring the indigo foam of two ceanothus trees and gleaming against the fresh, acid greens in the rest of the garden.
They may not be the dainty, delicately-fragranced ballerinas of the woodlands that everyone (including me) faints over but they have their own chunky charm. They remind me of Mabel Lucie Attwell fairy paintings, of my Nan’s front garden and Dad’s back garden (though he curses them too) – and they can be managed.
I cut off the spent flower heads before they can set seed, then pull out the stems, which keeps them at bay enough to bloom each year in the same small, tidy clumps. I make no effort to dig them out, cover them in black sheeting or attack them with a flame thrower. Why would I? They give me pleasure and ultimately that’s what gardening is about.