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Markeaton Park Bluebells English and Spanish


Some get quite worried about this issue, most perhaps also confused about how to tell the difference between;  bluebells & bluebells!??


When you’ve got your eye into it, its often very easy to tell; the beginner’s problem is there are so many hybrids about.


The two species which I think should be classed as two forms, are distinct in appearance, but often when near towns or places where people dump garden waste – you are looking at hybrids.  They interbreed so easily, the hybrids often swamp out both parents.


The English plays “Art Nouveau” to the Spanish “Art Deco”.  The English suited to places of tree shade in the company of ferns and other moisture and shade lovers the Spanish will grow strongly is sunshine.  The Spanish can go in the sunnier and drier places.  The blue is also different in the two, the English is a dark blue I would call it indigo it’s a blue-black which seems to disappear as the light fades in the evening, the white forms I have seen all seem weak plants.  The Spanish is a light blue, I would call it ‘powder blue’; there is a very nice pink Spanish & a vigorous white. Neither is that good to let the children pick as they wilt so quickly after picking, the English more or less useless as a vase item.  Therefore the robust Spanish is easily the better Garden plant.


The English flower is longer at least three times longer than it is across, with fully recurved petal tips like a pantomime shoe point –full circles.  The Spanish has shorter petals [in proportion] quite often like a 50s skirt in a light twirl with only a minor petal tip reflex.


The scent of the English is a nice light yet rich scent, my sense of smell is poor but in masse in a native woodland on the damp air it is a lovely quality fragrance.  The Spanish so far appears scentless.


The English is a lax plant about half way along the flower spike it bends over fully downwards in a tight upside down “U” and so holding the flowers so the first and last flowers are touching.  It is a plant of grace best appreciated in the wild setting where the grass and wild herbage around it give a little support.  The laxity is short lived as in seed, both forms hold the spike fully upright.


The Spanish is erect but may be a bit lax if in shade.  The flower spike grows straight up with flowers held in the manner hand bells are rung and in no way hanging often in perfectly symmetrical form, which can be seen if you stand above the plant, a ‘Portillo with Bradshaw’ stance. Touch the flower it is held not hung.


Possibly it may make little difference in the wild, but if a small pollinating insect is under threat the Spanish invasion should be halted.


To the purist hybrids are a nuisance invasion of the English countryside,  however for the garden there may be potential;

 It would be nice to get the form of the English with the vigour and size of the Spanish.

 Get the English scent into the Spanish.

 Get the white vigour from Spanish to English.

 Perhaps get English with the Spanish colours.

 Perhaps the Spanish with the English indigo.


One day on some neglected patch you might spot one of the above or a form with breeding or propagation potential.  


But for Garden use what is wrong with these hybrids?


Lack of uniformity, in the garden we often use plants of mixed colours but notice the breeders try to give us plants of different colours but of similar form and stature.  


Wild hybrid Bluebells often show forms with various degrees of spike laxity and size.  This can give an untidy appearance to the display.  A group which has grown from a single seedling will be uniform, a clone.


You can find plants of intermediate sizes, colours, petal recurve and proportions.  Depending on your taste or garden site, the clone becomes a garden variety.    


In this way single clones may be of use in the Garden, I have one such clone which is a half tilt spike, well I like it.


 What I would recommend would be twofold;


These should be classed as two forms within one species.


When clearance of hybrids and Spanish forms are required by purist interests, get Gardeners to select and remove any potential individuals, then burn the rest.


Otherwise what you like, enjoy.



Markeaton Park in Derby


On Markeaton Park in Derby, there are groups of pure English, Spanish and Hybrid areas.  The Bonnie Prince Charlie Retreat  will guide you to some of them, as the time of Bluebell flowering is the best time of year to do this walk.


 There are also English Bluebells on the side of the Railway track alongside the ring road and the “L” shaped woods between Crematorium and Portico.


The largest hybrid group is the small wood walked through between Mundy Play area and the Craft Village.


{I have bought a few packets of bluebell bulbs over the past few years, all have proved to be hybrids – though of near English appearance and so garden suitable.  It would be criminal to put these in the wild.}  BN