The bluebell’s love of gloomy weather aroused my suspicions of the ongoing rain. Wet, cold days have made this woodland flower last longer, while bees stay hidden inside the hive. Yet another rainy bank holiday confirmed my fears that spring has fallen under enchantment of fairies dancing in bluebell rings. So with little beekeeping doing, I pulled on wellies and trudged through mud to explore London’s ancient bluebell woods.
My guided tour of London’s bluebells started on Sunday 29 April at Perivale Wood’s Public Open Day. Perivale Wood is Britain’s second oldest nature reserve and is owned by the Selborne Society, the country’s oldest conservation charity. These ancient oak-and-bluebell woodlands have remained unchanged for centuries and may reveal what plant and insect species lived in Britain almost 9,000 years ago. ‘Bluebells are an indicator of ancient woodlands,’ said Ed, our guide through the muddy meadows and beneath the dark canopy of trees. One of our group had brought a flask of spiced masala tea, so we paused for a while to enjoy a cuppa and listen to the sound of rain falling on leaves.
Bluebells are at their peak in May and my favourite National Trust park and house was holding guided bluebell walks with one of the park wardens. It was the perfect thing to do on a showery bank holiday, so the following Sunday I was led by bluebells to Osterley Park. Incredible explosions of blue carpeted the woodland floor and trailed alongside gnarled roots of ancient oaks.
‘Don’t stray too far off the path,’ warned Ben, the park warden. ‘Folklore says that mortals who wander into bluebells rings will fall asleep and wake in a hundred years!’ Our charming and knowledgeable guide wove fact and folklore as we wandered through Osterley’s enchanted woods. ‘Bluebells were too poisonous to use in medicine, but their starchy roots were used to make glue,’ said Ben. ‘The crushed bulbs provided starch for the ruffs of Elizabethan collars.’ We discovered that English bluebells are threatened by their own Spanish Armada – an invasion of Spanish bluebells that endanger our native species with hybridisation. They also suffer from being trampled underfoot by clumsy mortals, so we were careful to follow Ben’s advice and stick to the path.
Back at the apiary, bluebell displays are springing up in-between shade and light. I found a few flowers peeking at the sky and revealing their creamy yellow pollen. Bluebells are an important early source of food for bees who are rumoured to steal the nectar from the flowers. They bite a hole in the bottom of the bell and drink the nectar without pollinating the flower. I hope our bees enjoy drinking sweet-scented English bluebells while the rain decides to stay.
Read more about the bluebells of Perivale at this great post: Open day, Perivale Wood and another lovely post about woodland flowers: Woodland plants may be pungent, prickly and even poisonous