Dances with bluebells and rain

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.

The ancient oak-and-bluebell woodlands of Perivale, Greater London.

In spring the bluebells come out to play mischief beneath time-weary oaks.

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.

The bluebell is the very spirit of English springtime.

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.

Breathtaking carpet of blue within the woods at Osterley Park.

Folklore says bluebells are fairy flowers…

… and mortals who wander into bluebell rings fall under fairy enchantment.

‘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.

All parts of the plant are poisonous, but the sticky sap had many uses including sticking feathers to arrows and binding pages into the spines of books.

Bluebell visited by small fly.

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.

Bees steal the nectar from bluebells without pollinating the flower.

Hopefully, our bees enjoy a stolen drink from bluebells in-between showers.

Nature likes to surprise us – ethereal white-and-blue bluebells at the apiary.

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

Bluebells links
The Selborne Society and Perivale Woods
Osterley Park and House

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43 thoughts on “Dances with bluebells and rain

    • The wet weather has made it tempting to stay inside, but as a child my mother and grandmother would never let us wimp out because of a little rain. So my wellies have seen a few adventures this spring 🙂 I am enjoying your merfolk fishy tales too!

      • Good on you for making a stand against the rain. Wasn’t it Billy Connolly who said ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes’ 🙂

        I’m glad you are enjoying the mermaids, they are quite funny aren’t they. As long as you are not on the wrong end of the oar that is!

    • It is hard to be cross with fairies! But I am looking forward to using my new camera on our bees – as long as I can get the hang of all these buttons! Poor Queen Myrrh, I have been thinking how she and her bees are getting along. Would be nice if she survives the rain to have her picture taken 🙂

    • Have fun! I’ll look forward to seeing your photos 🙂 Hope it doesn’t rain too much – my first visit to bluebells this year was a juggling act with brolly and camera, luckily in the woods the trees sheltered us 😉

  1. We have ancient woodlands at the end of our lane – called Bubbles and Gommes Wood it is claimed that it isnpired one of J M Barrie’s plays called, I think Barnabus, as he stayed locally. It is certainly magical and carpeted with bluebells. My favourite view is when the dappled sun light streams through the beech trees down to the bluebells and the pure green of the newly unfurled beech leaves can be seen above. They grow wild in our garden – it is hard to stop them so I am not convinced that walking over them is a threat. But I love them so will take care to keep my feet away just in case. Did you see that the National Trust was trying to get people to let them know via Twitter about Bluebell sites and they can accept photos, too? See http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bluebellwatch

    • ‘dappled sun light streams through the beech trees down to the bluebells and the pure green of the newly unfurled beech leaves’ – that does sound magical, Tricia! Have you heard the folklore about not bringing bluebells into the home because it’s bad luck? Thanks for the link to National Trust, I’ll definitely send over those photos. Best not to step on them in case you upset the fairies! 😉

      • Hadn’t heard about not bringing in bluebells to the house. Having done so as a child I saw they didn’t look as good or last so luckily I haven’t challenged that for a while. Another flower that takes me back to my youth is the cowslip and its great to see they seem to be gaining ground again – several motorways in the Midlands sport great areas of them along their verges. So many people seem not to recognise them these days and they seemed so common 50 years ago.

  2. Just lovely lovely words and images. I hope you made that wish for me! I thought of you on my woodland walk with the lady slippers. So sorry to read about Queen Myrrh. The weather’s been weird on this side of the pond too. Love and Hugs! Donna

    • Thank you, Donna. Your wish is granted! 🙂 Yes, so sad about Myrrh, but the weather has been unfortunate this year. The Met office forecast for UK over Jubilee weekend and early June looks settled and fair, so we might get a little summer yet! xx

      • I hope so! You guys have a lot going on over there this summer! It would be nice to have good weather for it! England in June is a BEAUTIFUL thing, from the photos I’ve seen. Makes me “not want to get married” to Hugh Grant!

      • The sunshine makes everything look beautiful even grey, old London! I’m looking forward to the Jubilee weekend street parties. Don’t marry Hugh Grant, marry Michael Fassbender instead 🙂

  3. Pingback: An evening with the Selborne Society of Perivale Wood | Miss Apis Mellifera

  4. Pingback: A beekeeper’s notes for April | Miss Apis Mellifera

  5. Pingback: Bluebells and Birches (Fairy Magic) | breathofgreenair

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