Every April, I look forward to walking among the amazing display of Virginia bluebells along the trails of Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve near New Hope. I encourage you to go there now while the ground is carpeted in blue.
Why make haste? Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are classified as spring ephemerals together with plants such spring beauty, bloodroot, trillium, and Dutchman's breeches. Virginia bluebells bloom and set seed in a very short amount of time before the trees leaf out—generally in April in our area. After the blossoms fade, the foliage dies to the ground by mid-summer when the plant goes dormant.
"Bluebells are one of my spring favorites because they bring a different color to the landscape," says Amy Hoffmann, the preserve's Education Coordinator. "This time of year we see a lot of whites, yellows and light pink. Blue is a welcome addition to the garden.”
These bluish-lavender perennials are native to the U.S. and are found from New York to Minnesota and from Alabama to Kansas, mainly in woodsy areas. They grow best in part shade to shady locations with some moisture. The plants grow upright to about one to two feet in height on arching stems. The pink buds open to blue bell-shaped flowers.
My bluebells are planted in my dry backyard — while they bloom faithfully each year, they do not spread much. They are easy to grow and do not require any maintenance. I like to plant bluebells together with native yellow wood poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum) — the yellow and blue combination is a real winner! Plant some ferns to fill in the gaps after these plants fade away.
These perennials only last a few weeks out of the year, but it's worth growing them. “Bluebells are easy to grow in your yard," says Hoffmann. "Site them in a shady spot with moist to average soil and watch them multiply over time.”
If you want to learn more about "spring lovelies," or spring ephemerals, join Amy Hoffmann to learn all about these amazing plants followed by an outdoor tour on Saturday, April 7 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Contact the Preserve for more information on this event, "Knowing Native Plants: Fleeting Flora."
"Bluebells are known to form colonies, a characteristic that the Preserve takes full advantage of," says Hoffmann. "Our Parry Trail can be found with a carpet of blue during mid-to-late April. This year may be different though. If the weather stays as warm as it is, I think we'll see bluebells in full bloom in early-to-mid April. Luckily, the flowers are in clusters so the bluebells will stay in bloom for a few weeks versus other spring ephemerals, like bloodroot, where you may get two or three days out of one flower."
Visitors can walk the Preserve's trails from 8:30 a.m. to sunset after checking in at the Visitor's Center and obtaining a trail map. However, if you prefer a guided tour with a naturalist, the daily 2:00 p.m. tours (except for Mondays) start in April until the end of October.
Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve sells Virginia bluebells and other spring ephemerals at the annual plant sale. This year the Spring Native Plant Sale is on Saturdays and Sundays for the first two weekends in May. You can also purchase plants during weekdays after the sale.
Try some spring ephemerals in your yard, especially Virginia bluebells. Get out and enjoy their blue blossoms while you can! You can find more information here.