Wildflowers in Hertfordshire: When & where to spot spring blooms

White primroses flowers blooming, close-up

Cheerful white primroses - 'the first rose' - blooming - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

As winter draws to a close, the heralds of spring are beginning to pop up in our woods - little dots of colour on the once bare ground.

Not only are early wildflowers a welcome sight after the bareness of winter, the first sign that spring is just around the corner, they also provide a crucial source of nectar for pollinators coming out of hibernation, such as queen bumblebees. 

At the vanguard in our flower world, the snowdrop will most likely already be on its way out now. When little else is growing and soils are frozen this hardy little plant is at its best.

When a few decades ago, they wouldn’t flower until late February, they can now be seen before Christmas. Its Latin name means ‘milk flower of the snow’. While snowdrops are not actually a native, but rather a garden escapee, they are now well established and can be found all over the country.

In mild years, primrose can also appear in December and flower all the way to May. It favours woodland clearings, hedgerows and grasslands and is a low-growing plant with rough, tongue-like leaves that grow in a rosette.

The flowers are large and creamy, with deep yellow centres, and often appear clustered together. Its common name is from the Latin ‘prima rosa’, meaning first rose. 

Between January and April, bright yellow lesser celandine flowers carpet woodland floors, opening fully in sunshine. They are a member of the buttercup family and have been popular subjects in literature.

William Wordsworth loved them so much he wrote three poems about them, and in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe CS Lewis signals the return of Aslan, and therefore spring, with the flower: 'Edmund saw the ground covered in all directions with little yellow flowers - celandines'.  

Bright yellow flowers of celandine carpeting a woodland

Celandine carpeting a woodland - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Named after the Anemoi, the Greek gods of the winds and seasons, wood anemones are a delicate flower with beautiful white petals and a hint of pink. This legend gives the flower its other common name, windflower.

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It blooms between March and May in ancient woodlands, before the canopy becomes too dense. Its seeds are mostly infertile and it spreads slowly through the growth of its roots.  

Wood anemone flower in a group on woodland floor

Wood anemone, also known as 'windflower', is named after the Greek gods of the winds and seasons - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A pretty flower with large bright yellow flowerheads, not dissimilar to the dandelion, is coltsfoot. Its composite flower heads – made up of lots of tiny flowers – appear as early as February, and well before the hoof-shaped leaves, a process that has earned them another common name, son-before-father.  

Bright yellow flowers of coltsfoot on a woodland floor

Tussilago farfara, commonly known as coltsfoot, blooming in spring - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The flowers of the bluebell cover our woodlands in an enchanting sweep of purple every year from as early as March to April – a spectacle not to be missed and one which Hertfordshire is particularly blessed. Bluebells spend most of the year underground in a dormant state only emerging to leaf and flower in spring, growing from bulbs.

The UK's woodlands are home to almost half the world's bluebells. In many parts, the native English bluebell is at risk of being outcompeted by the more vigorous Spanish bluebell.

It’s fairly easy to tell them apart: our native bluebells have narrow leaves and the flowers grow on one side of the stem which are distinctly drooping to one side and give off a sweet scent, whereas the non-native has upright stems with flowers all around them, broad leaves and no scent. However, you might find hybrids that are not as easy to identify.  

Bluebells and celandine make a spectacular display in a spring wood

Bluebell and celandine make a spectacular display - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Away from the woodland floor you might spot early-flowering shrubs and trees, such as blackthorn and goat willow, along hedgerows and in woodlands from March onwards. These are also important early nectar sources and you are likely to find them buzzing with insects on warm spring days. 

Where to find Hertfordshire's Wildflowers

You don’t have to travel far to find early spring wildflowers. Why not visit your local woodland and see what you can discover? Find your nearest Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust nature reserve at hertswildlifetrust.org.uk and see nationaltrust.org.uk for glorious local gardens. Or check out Hertfordshire Life's top spots for wildflowers in spring below...

Best for blossom: Shaw's Corner, Ayot St Lawrence
Head to the orchard for apple, pear and plum tree blossoms, as well as cherry blossom on the North Lawn and spot tulips and cowslips in the formal borders and wildflower meadows

Best for snowdrops: St Paul's Walden Bury
This elegant Grade I listed garden offers up snowdrop-strewn grounds in January and February. Myddelton House and Gardens is a great spot too.

Best for daffodils: Cassiobury Park, Watford
With 190 acres of open space Watford's Cassiobury Park is a great spot for seas of cheery yellow

Best for bluebells: Gobions Wood
This ancient woodland is renowned locally for its display of bluebells. Ashridge Estate is also famous for its bluebells.

Best spot for tulips: Alswick Hall, Buntingford
Tulips are planted in their thousands each autumn in the four large parterre beds at Alswick Hall, which is also a great spot for daffodils, camassia and blossom. 

Best spot for magnolias: St Pauls Walden Bury 
This Grade I listed garden has an impressive display of magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas.

Best spot for lavender: Hitchin Lavender
This famous spot has 25 miles of lavender rows to walk through and you can even pick your own fresh flowers.



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