Tag Archives: bluebell

If You Go Down to the Woods Today…

Which is precisely what I managed to do last month for a few days. With Dave on the mend following his op, my friend Avis and I slipped away by coach, visiting the beautiful county of Warwickshire, England for a “Bluebell Walk”. The bluebells were out early this year, and are stunning. Knowing this and when combined with a touch of literary culture, Avis and I we were in for a treat.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

First to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (William Shakespeare’s wife). I visited here back in the 60s, as an 11-year-old on a school trip, and well remembered the thatched building and gardens, although 50 years on one now enters through a different building to reach the cottage, and the gardens have expanded. Following a brief history of the house we were allowed to wander at leisure with staff on hand to explain and inform. I’m certainly glad I didn’t live there – no mains electricity, no water on tap and no central heating; one could well imagine how difficult life was back in the 1500s. Outside, I was disappointed to see that the bluebells amongst all the colourful tulips in the beautiful front garden were the Spanish non-native type. They certainly wouldn’t have been found here in Shakespeare’s time. I hope the gardeners dig them all out soon.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Then on  to Stratford-upon-Avon. Again, it’s some 50 years since  first exploring this town. The main street on which William Shakespeare’s house  is located is now pedestrianised, thankfully, but a large visitor centre now sits incongruously alongside it. We decided against doing the house tour; instead we took a pleasant walk through Stratford and enjoyed a spot of lunch.

Walton Hall Hotel

A few miles outside of Stratford we arrived at our hotel, set in 65 acres of park and farmland. What a fabulous place! Although the main part of the hotel is modern, it’s built in the grounds of a large 16th century mansion (history & info link) recently owned by the late Danny La Rue.  The rooms were lovely, the beds so enormous they could easily sleep 4 persons! And joy of joys, I had a balcony too so as the dawn chorus started, I opened the French doors and enjoyed my early morning coffee outside as I listened. Bliss! The food was excellent, the staff faultless. In fact, it’s one the few hotels I’ve stayed in where I wish I could have stopped for longer, only the bluebell woods called and thus, after a delicious breakfast we were on the road again, heading for Coughton Court (pronounced Coat-un). I’d never heard of this National Trust Tudor treasure until this trip. Can’t understand why.

Once there, we headed straight for the woods and the bluebells, after all this was the main reason for our trip. There were swathes of them. And the scent glorious. If you’ve never smelt an English bluebell wood you are missing a treat. However, there is only so much one can say about bluebells, but I did take lots of photos, mainly for painting reference.

Of course, Thugs Bunny and Mr Tumble had to get in on the act!

We spent several hours wandering around enjoying the spectacle before heading back to explore the house itself. Coughton Court is still occupied by the sixth generation of the Throckmorton family, infamously involved in the plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I in 1583 and put Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Inside, we could wander freely, allowed to touch things, sit on the furniture, even try on some of the Tudor clothes on display. Helpful guides were on hand to explain items and various histories of the house and family. Coughton also boasts magnificent gardens, better than Hampton Court apparently, but I have to admit we were too exhausted to venture further so settled on coffee and cake instead. This is definitely a place to go back to. To read more about the house and the Throckmortons I’ve included this link .

Coughton Court

Time eventually caught up with us to make our way back to the coach and home. A lovely, relaxing two days and a much needed break. Now patiently waiting for the next one.

PS: Meanwhile, I feel a painting coming on…

 

In And Out The Dusty Bluebells

Spring has finally turned a corner in England now we have slipped into May. Typically, it being May Bank Holiday here, the weather is still on the chilly side (I have the heating on!) and it’s raining. The forecast promises warm weather by the end of this week, much to everyone’s relief. It has been a good year for spring flowers though and now the daffodils have given way to the most glorious (I think) wild flower displays this country puts on, for May represents bluebell time. Whilst in some locations they often appear in April if the weather is warm enough, invariably it is the non-native species that bloom first.

mXPDKBMIt is a sad fact that English bluebells are unique but being slowly but surely eroded by foreign counterparts introduced here way back in the early 1900s.  Known as Spanish bluebells, they are different in many respects to our own native species but so common now, most people do not know the difference. The plants are common in people’s gardens too, as seeds can be readily purchased and easy to grow. As a consequence, they have self-seeded along hedgerows and verges and able to cross-pollinate with our native species, thus destroying their uniqueness. This is such a shame.

So, how can you tell which is which? There are four simple ways.

bluebell-273752__180

The Spanish Invader

First is colour. In the Spanish varieties (hyacinthoides hispanica) the bell-shaped flowers are pale blue, often white, and occasionally pink. The native English (hyacinthoides non-scripta) bluebell flower is darker, more a cobalt blue. The second is the way the flowers hang on the stalks. In the foreign variety, the stem is upright with the bells flowering around it, the flower heads fairly large, open tipped and more prolific. In our native plant, the stem arches with the flowers hanging on one side only, and with fewer bells.

English native

English native

The third clue is pollen: the Spanish flower has blue or green pollen; in the English variety it is white or cream. The fourth, and to my mind the most important, difference is perfume. There is no smell to Spanish varieties whilst the true English form will scent a woodland glade with a subtle, honey-like perfume that is unmistakable.

There’s nothing quite like an English wood when it is in a full swathe of blue glory. A walk through these can raise the spirit and lift the heart as they herald the onset of summer. The show is short-lived as once the leaves on the trees come out fully, the flowers vanish. It’s one of the reasons why I love painting bluebell scenes – to preserve this unique English spectacle for longer. Now, if only I could find a paint that has the same sweet perfume…

Bluebells