OUR UMBEL ABODE; The drama has started early and these captivating beauties will happily bloom until autumn. And they're not just pretty - many attract the kind of insects thall along our roads and verges hat keep the pests at bay.
Having spent 15 years travelling to Chelsea Flower Show - where my nursery, Glebe Cottage Plants, exhibited - I recall the journey almost as much as the event.
Every year, as our lorry turned out of Pixie Lane at the start of the trip, we were met with ditches and verges effervescing with cow parsley.
Scenes like this mark the opening act of the umbel drama. Throughout late spring, into summer and beyond, there will be members of the family carrying the torch.
Hogweed, hemlock and wild carrot will adorn road verges and field edges, waste grounds and cliff edges.
This year, like so many plants, cow parsley is early. There are weeks to go until Chelsea but it is in full flower along our roads and in the garden.
Cow parsley, or Anthriscus sylvestris, has a host of common names, a sure sign of how fond of it we are. Queen Anne's lace is a popular epithet and perfectly describes the delicacy of the flowers that make up each head as they appear in their hundreds.
This construction is typical of most umbels, sometimes composed of umbellets or umbellules - umbels of umbels. It is a form that gives members of this part of the family, especially those with white flowers - some are yellow and occasionally pink - a lightness and grace unmatched in any other plant family.
Most umbellifers have intricately detailed flowers. They can be seen on many levels, becoming more complex as we move in. Like a selection of frames from a movie, they yield different realities in the same head of flower.
From a distance, Anthriscus sylvestris makes a fine, frothy picture, full of creamy softness. Closer up, with the whole flower head in frame, we are aware of the individual stems all emanating in a starburst from the summit of the main stem and each supporting its own smaller umbel of flowers. We can move closer still to study each flower.
Walk past any umbel on a sunny day and it will be teeming with insects.
Although some insects have an umbel of choice, most seem to have catholic taste and at any one time, there may be numerous species of flies, hoverflies and bees as well as a collection of beetles.
Wasps seem to be partial to angelicas, particularly Angelica gigas, with its magnificent platforms of crimson flowers.
Don't be put off - wasps do an enormous amount of good, especially hoovering up caterpillars. They're always welcome on my cabbages. Meanwhile, hoverfly larvae consume aphids by the hundreds so apiaceae - another name for umbellifers - are good news all round.
But few of us have the space to give cow parsley garden room. Its bronze-leaved twin, A. sylvestris 'Ravenswing', is more welcom.
Its flowers areas attractive as those of tspecies and tinged with pink to boot.
But it is its ferny, burnt-sienna foliage th tempts the gardener to invite it in.
Several other umbels make alluring additions to informal areas and bring the ebullient spirit of cow parsley.
Chaerophyllum hirsutum 'Roseum' is reserved at first. Its flower stems and budalong the surface of the soil as if too shy to show themselves.
out, In its own time, it lifts itself up and fills oblossoming into a plant a metre high and smothered in tiny purple-pink flowers.
Grow it in light shade among Solomon's seal or rising from a sea of lily-of-the-valle"Hirsutum" means hairy and the whole plis soft to the touch.
Pimpinella major 'Rosea' has similar flowers. It is daintier than chaerophyllumand is the pink version of a British native, greater burnet saxifrage.
Its foliage is more succulent than cow parsley's and the plant is more erect and compact. Its immensely pretty flowers are a lovely shade of pink and they make a perfect foil for the big, blowsy poppies that are at their best in the early days of June.
Try it with the shell-pink blooms of Papaver orientale 'Karine' or set it against the dark, opulent discs of P. orientale 'Patty's Plum'.
Here in Scotland and in the north of England, one of the most endearing of umbels holds sway.
Meum athamanticum has pretty flowers but its foliage pulls in the crowds.
At Chelsea Flower Show, it was almost impossible to stop visitors stroking its soft leaves, so finely cut as to be fluffy.
Its common names are spignel and baldmoney, the latter from an ancient Norse god, Balder, who was associated with light and beauty.
It used to be cultivated as a root crop many moons ago.
'LIKE THE FRAMES IN A MOVIE, THEY YIELD DIFFERENT REALITIES'
HOST Angelica gigas attracts hoverflies
SLOW STARTER 'Roseum' is shy
DELICATE Anthriscus sylvestris growing among grass in woodland
DETAILED: Carol with Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing'
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|Publication:||Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)|
|Date:||Apr 27, 2014|
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