Beautiful, Beautimous Bluebells

February 24, 2012 | By | Comments (5)

How many of you have a flower that reminds you of someone in your past? Grumpy does. It’s his favorite wildflower of the eastern U.S., the lovely Virginia bluebell.

Long ago when Grumpy was but a brilliant lad, he toured his Uncle Bob’s wildflower garden in Annapolis, Maryland. Virginia bluebells carpeted the ground with the same blue color as the sky. Now every time Grumpy sees these flowers, he remembers his Uncle Bob.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) belong to the borage family, and if you look closely at the flowers, you’ll see the resemblance to other borage family members — lungwort (Pulmonaria), blue-eyed Mary (Omphalodes), and forget-me-not (Myosotis). Nodding clusters of bell-shaped blossoms, pink in bud and blue when open, appear in spring atop stalks 18-24 inches high. I love ’em.

How to Grow Beautimous Bluebells

Virginia bluebells are classified as spring ephemerals, a term we gardening cognoscenti like to bandy about to cow the Great Unwashed. It refers to plants that sprout in late winter or spring, bloom, set seed, and then die back to their roots thereafter, not to be seen again until the following year. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), trout lily (Erythronium), and celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) are others.

Late winter and spring is the time to plant. If you order now from a mail-order nursery such as Sunshine Farm & Gardens in West Virginia, owner Barry Glick will ship you dormant roots that look like little carrots. Plant them in the garden when you get them. If you’re not ready to plant yet, you can always buy potted plants in bloom later at many garden centers.

Virginia bluebells are easy to grow if you provide the right conditions. They like partial to full shade (under tall pines or hardwoods) and moist soil loaded with organic matter. Left alone, the roots will slowly spread to form colonies. Let the seeds ripen before you cut off the yellowed foliage in late summer and your plants will give you seedlings.

Now What?

What do you do after a spring ephemeral dies back, leaving an empty patch in your garden? Barry suggests interplanting Virginia bluebells with evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). This is an excellent idea. Just as the bluebell foliage is dying back, new Christmas fern fronds are unfurling.

Grumpy Inspires Miranda!

It never ceases to amaze me how many people my works inspire. Following a casual conversation with Miranda Lambert about the merits of Virginia bluebells, she wrote a song about them. I think these lyrics send a message to all those who have yet to realize their greatness.

Pretty little thing, sometimes you gotta look up

And let the world see all the beauty that you’re made of

‘Cause the way you hang your head nobody can tell

You’re my Virginia bluebell.

Fortunately, I have already realized mine.

Keep Those Crepe Murder Photos Coming In!

Don’t forget to send me your photo of some really gross crepe murder by March 5. You could win a cool prize from our Southern Living Plant Collection. See my last post for instructions on how to enter.






  1. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Bluebonnets like really bad soil where it rains in winter, but not much in summer, and grasses and other weeds don’t choke it out.

    March 9, 2012 at 11:50 am
  2. nana p

    Nancy, you are probably correct as there were red flowers also. We were so surprised by the site, they were gorgeous. I bought some ‘bluebonnet’ seeds and planted them to no avail.

    March 5, 2012 at 10:55 pm
  3. Nancy Lee

    I think what Nana P saw in Texas were Bluebonnets with red Indian Paintbrush. The Bluebonnet is the state flower of Texas. The highway department and property owners work hard to spread as many of these flowers as possible.

    March 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm
  4. Donna

    Grumpy, I saw you listed for the Fling, I am very excited to meet you, as you are one of my favorite reads in blogging. As per the bluebells, the last I saw fields of them is similar to you. They were on my grandfather’s estate in Pennsylvania. Very fond memories. In NY I have not seen them although they can live to zone 4a.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:53 pm
  5. nana p

    Never saw bluebells in Virginia, but I have in Texas. My husband and I left our Florida Panhandle home early one spring morning and drove through Houston and on until late. When got up the next morning we could see what we had been missing on the dark roadside–the absolutely beautiful bluebells and a red wildflower. One of the most wonderful sites I have ever seen. Thank you, Lady Bird Johnson for starting the wildflowers along the Texas interstates.

    February 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm

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