Category Archives: plants

Bluebell heaven

I’m stood in the middle of a bluebell wood.  All around me is a carpet of blue. This is the most astonishing display of these much loved spring-time plants that I have ever seen. I feel like I need to rub my eyes to make sure that this is real and not some daydream. The only word that comes into my head is ‘wow’.

Bluebells 2

I look around and as far as the eye can see is bluebells. The overcast nature of the day and the lush green of the emerging leaves amplifies the colour. I’ve seen countless images of bluebell woods: it’s a staple of photo stories in the nationals and social media channels such as Instagram  in late April and early May. But I have never seen anything to compare with this. The stresses of the day begin to ebb away the longer I stand in the woods, showing the power of nature to add a real calmness to our daily lives. We all need our patch of natural heaven to refresh us.

This magical Bluebell wood is called Hagbourne Copse. It’s carefully managed by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. For years I have passed this place on the way to and from work in Swindon. Finally after years of anticipation I made it into the woods. But this first visit exceeded any expectations that I had and I hadn’t fully anticipated the natural treat that was in store for me.

Bluebells 4

The most remarkable thing about this Bluebell wood is its location. This woodland, roughly the size of a few football pitches, is surrounded by roads and an industrial estate. Its minutes away from Junction 16 on the M4 and is next to the main route, used by tens of thousands of people every day, on their way to and from work in Swindon.

It seems remarkable to think that so many people will pass this special place every day totally oblivious to its beauty.  Many people have written about the so-called edgelands: marginal and often non-descript places on the edge of our towns and cities. These are places where nature moves in when people move out; or places where nature gradually takes over the forgotten strips of land or abandoned brownfield sites.

Hagbourne Copse is a classic example of the need for us all to look closer to home for nature. It can be found in the most surprising places. Near to where I work in Swindon is a footpath that negotiates it’s way between the railway and a car-park: and yet this short green corridor is awash with natural treats.

Bluebells 3

Little did I think that my favourite ever Bluebell wood would be in a place like this. For me it shows the ability of nature to thrive where-ever it’s found. This copse will have been here long before the warehouses, car showrooms and hotels. It’s a place that transports us deep into the heart of nature and connects us to why wildlife has the ability to provide a sense of awe that few other things can compete with.


The wonder of wild flowers

So the votes have been counted and the public have had their say – the bluebell is the nation’s favourite wild flower.

Out of the twenty-five shortlisted candidates its not a massive surprise. Bluebells are one the flowers of spring time and they grace our woodlands (and elsewhere) with an amazing carpet of colour every year. I have to declare my hand: I voted for the snakes head fritillary.

Interestingly and just like the general election the bluebell didn’t have all its own way. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland the primrose with its lovely mellow yellow colour topped the flower pops in these three nations. The sheer weight of the vote cast in England, however, meant that the bluebell reigned supreme.

I do love wild flowers. At this time of year they add a wonderous splash of colour to the countryside but also, and I think importantly, our towns and cities. For generations wild flowers were a vital part of our seasonal calendar. However since 80% of us now live in urban areas that connection has diminished.

That is why the work of organisations such as Plantlife and Kew to get wild flowers into parks, roadside verges, roundabouts and our back gardens is so important. A little bit less mowing by local authorities is helping to create more space for meadows. And wildflowers can only be a good thing: brightening the places that we live and creating an important habitat for insects such as bees and butterflies.

Walking through a woodland full of bluebells is one of the joys of life. Its something that makes me feel so good every time that I do it. Or spotting a little bluebell wood hidden from the general gaze of people driving past, such as a nice woodland area in Swindon near to J16 of the M4.

However – we do need to remember that there is more to life than bluebells and that there is a whole range of wonderful wild flowers out there. That is why polls such as this one help to raise the profile of the diversity of flowers but also the important role that we all have in terms of celebrating them and looking after them.

Plant poll opens

As part of its silver jubilee Plantlife has launched a poll to find the nation’s favourite wild flower. You have twenty five to choose from and as you flick through the list to cast your vote you realise how beautiful they are, making the choice even more difficult.

At this time of year the landscapes of the UK are slowly coming alive with a canvass of colour. Spring is the season to make your heart sing and your spirits soar. It’s when the natural world comes alive, the evenings start getting a little bit lighter and the clocks change, giving us that precious extra hour of daylight.

And it’s particularly special when it comes to wild flowers. The months ahead will be awash with one plant related treat after another – in our meadows, woodland, coastal cliffs…

Looking through the list created a whole load of memories for me. It reminds me of the places that I’ve been as a kid, the places that I have taken my children and the places that I’d like to visit.

You have the almost bomb proof lesser celandine that occupy a patch of green outside my daughter and son’s school; this lovely little yellow flower manages to withstand the herd of kids as they flood out of school. It comes backing fighting adding a splash of colour to the park.

One of the lovely signs of spring, primroses

One of the lovely signs of spring, primroses

Primroses remind me of my childhood. Driving through the quintessential Devon lanes at Easter the hedgerows and banks would be awash with this subtle flower. I can see them now as I type, taking me back to journeys up to Dartmoor or to north Devon.

Bluebells will be the natural front runners for this poll, with legions of supporters gathering a head of steam to get out the vote. I love bluebells too and there is a patch of urban woodland near Junction 16 of the M4 in Swindon that comes alive with the carpet of colour in April and May. I have never been to walk through the bluebells at this hidden bit of woodland but this poll is likely to get me out there.

So the choices are tough. All are great candidates and would be a worthy winner.

Snakes head fritillaries at Bath City Farm; my top of the plant pops

Snakes head fritillaries at Bath City Farm; my top of the plant pops

But I have to declare my voting intentions. It has to be the snakes head fritillary. Wow what a plant. Every time I see one I’m bowled over. It’s delicate and slightly unreal. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Scottish architect and designer, captured this flower perfectly in one of his drawings. I saw one of these plants, an early bloomer at Bath City Farm, gently blowing in the wind; it drew me in and had me captivated. It might not be the most common of flower but it’s one that we need to celebrate.

At a time when 20% of wild flowers are under threat we need to stand up for the role that they have played in our national story and make sure that the turnout in this online vote is as high as possible. That way we’ll show our love for wild flowers and that we need to make sure that future generations can enjoy them too.