Bluebell, English bluebell, British bluebell, English harebell, wild hyacinth, cuckoo’s boots, granfer griggles, witches’ thimbles, lady’s nightcap, fairy flower, cra’tae (crow’s toes)…
Jenna and I were walking in an abandoned quarry near Carmel recently when we came across a floral blanket known locally as Cuckoo’s Bells or Clychau’r Gog. You’ll notice how the words ‘English’ and ‘British’ attach themselves to some of the names listed above; everyone scrambles for these flowers. (I should remind you, however, that these wildflowers should not be picked.) Fortunately, in Welsh, we have our own names, unmarked by national flags or grubby fingers.
Bwtias y Gog, Cennin y Brain, Clychau’r Eos, Croeso Haf and Glas y Llwyn.
Yes, an exciting and polyonymous flower, like Dutch rain or Inuit snow.
Did you know that research is currently underway into whether these flowers could be deployed in our age-old battle against cancer? It’s strange to think that the bud whose sticky sap was once used to glue feathers on to Robin Hood’s arrows could assist us in a far deadlier battle. As a bibliophile, I also discovered that the same sticky sap was used to bind book-pages together. Maybe that’s why old books always smell so good!
Its names are appealing. Tales are instantaneously spun when witches’ thimbles and crow’s toes are in the equation. For me, being a Welshman, Clychau’r Gog beats the rest. On hearing the first cuckoo in spring, a bluebell is never that far away. Croeso Haf comes a close second-place – its name meaning ‘Summer Welcomer’ or a herald of the light.
I admit that when I’m feeling down, I sometimes listen for the cuckoo in my mind and forest bathe in that violet sea. Yes, God knew what he was doing creating and programming this soothing display after a long, grey winter.
After all, purple, violet, blues, lilacs are all calming colours. You’ll often find this palette in hospital wards or waiting rooms. In Antiquity, purple (or somewhere there abouts) was the dye of royalty, the Emperor’s own garb. The colour was extracted gruesomely by the cessation of tens of thousands of snails; this arduous process meant it was highly valued. This colour’s too dark for me – it’s more red than blue – and there’s something imperially grotesque about its source. The Bluebell has a healthier hue, natural and pleasant.
But they’re not just good for me. Butterflies, bees, and hoverflies are all drawn to its nectar.
They’re precious. It can take up to five years for a bluebell bulb to develop from seed. Jenna and I were even blessed with a sight of the rare ‘White Bluebell’ too (I don’t know its Welsh name unfortunately. Maybe someone reading does?) Now and again, 1 in 10,000 Bluebells will be white due to a genetic mutation.
In Luke 12, Christ speaks about wildflowers as a picture of God’s detailed care. How wonderful it is to be reminded of this care every time we encounter these bells. And there’s that old hymn isn’t there which talks about flowers being even more vibrant when viewed through spiritual lenses.
Loved with everlasting love,
Led by grace that love to know;
Spirit, breathing from above,
Thou hast taught me it is so.
Oh, this full and perfect peace!
Oh, this transport all divine!
In a love which cannot cease,
I am His, and He is mine.
Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is deeper green,
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen:
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,
Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.
So, there we have it: Clychau’r Gog. Enjoy this gift which decks our spring. Please don’t pick them. Enjoy them. Smell them if you like! Keep an eye out for the white ones. I’ll finish with a stanza from Anne Brontë’s poem (the rest of the poem is far too sad for this happy article):
A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.