Growing Bluebells: Information On Bluebell Plants

By Nikki Phipps

Image by David Wright

Confusion can arise from the various names, both English and Latin, when growing bluebells in the garden. To clear up this confusion, the following information on bluebell plants should help.

Information on Bluebell Plants

The bluebell’s alternative common name includes wood hyacinth and both of these are used interchangeably. Bluebell species, though, have been known by about four different Latin names. Bluebells have now been classified as Hyacinthoides, named after the Greek god Hyacinthus who was accidentally killed by a discus thrown by Apollo. From his drops of blood sprang flowers marked by Apollo’s cries of grief. The English variety has unmarked petals, thus deriving its name of non-scriptus. The bulb of this plant forms into strap-like leaves topped by clusters of nodding bell-shaped flowers, hence the bluebell name.

Growing Different Types of Bluebells

Considered as being one of the most adaptable bulbs, bluebell species are quite tolerant of shade. Growing through winter and flowering in spring allows the bluebell to tolerate the extreme shading. Although usually associated with deciduous woodlands, bluebells will also grow in hedgerows, grasslands, parklands and on cliffs. Bluebells usually require well-drained soil; however, some will also thrive in wet woodlands.

English Bluebell Planting

English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) was formerly called Scilla non-scripta, Scillanutans, and Endymion non-scriptus. English bluebells are native to England and France. English bluebells, with their stunning bluish-purple flowers, have been in European gardens since around 1500 and make wonderful bulbs for naturalizing. These beautiful blue flowers bloom in spring, reaching heights of around 12 inches.

The bulbs should be planted in the fall about 4 inches beneath the soil. English bluebells are also perfect for wooded gardens or within mixed beds and borders. The lovely, fragrant flowers make excellent choices for cutting as well.

Spanish Bluebell Planting

Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), previously Scilla campanulata and Endymion hispanicus, are native to Spain and much showier than the English variety; however, they do not emit much in the way of fragrance. Spanish bluebells are also taller than English varieties and bloom later too. Their flowers can be blue, white, or pink. Mixing the three colors at the edge of a bed or border makes a nice statement.

Planting and care for Spanish bluebells is much the same as with the English bluebells; however, this species will tolerate drought much better than English bluebells.

Caring for Growing Bluebells

Both species increase by self-sowing as well as by offsets. The plants go dormant in mid-summer. This is the ideal time to dig up and divide, if needed due to overcrowding.

These plants perform best when left to naturalize in woodland settings or shade gardens. Bluebells have numerous growing companions including camassias, hostas, ferns, and other woodland natives.

The leaves of bluebells are tough, making them a good deterrent from most animal or insect pests.