The beauty of Umbellifers

Umbellifers are so named, because of their delicate parasols of tiny flowers held above lofty stalks.  The name comes from the latin 'parasol-bearing':


umbella = parasol/umbrella (literally 'little shade')

fer = to bear

The most common in the UK is Cow Parsley - Anthriscus sylvestris - and to me there's nothing more lovely than swathes of the stuff waving in the breeze along hedgerows and fallow fields.  A cultivar, Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing' has become very popular among garden designers across the world for it's moody dark red stems and foliage which provide a wonderful contrast with the delicate white circles of flowers.  Such is its beauty that it's perhaps over-used now, but there are many more gorgeous umbellifers to try in your own garden, and they don't all have the pretty delicate look that we've become used to.

Ammi majus (above) is an annual that is easily grown from seed.  Very similar in appearance to Cow Parsley, it flowers in the summer, and is popular with florists as a light and airy alternative to Gypsophila in bridal bouquets.  I grow it from seed in trays, and then plant it out in gaps in the herbaceous border when it gets to around 15cm tall.

Chaerophyllum hirsutum  'Roseum' or Hairy Chervil- below, top left - sugary sweet and soft pink.  This is a perennial umbellifer with aromatic foliage.  Combine with other pastel shades and diaphanous grasses for a fairyland scene, or tone down with some sombre dark shades such as the velvety russet-burgundy of Iris germanica 'Langport Wren' or the inky tones of Aquilegia var. Stellata 'Black Barlow'

Foeniculum vulgare, Common Fennel - below, top right.  Lush  and aromatic feathery foliage topped with tall, buttercup-yellow flower-heads in late Summer.  This is a bold, bright umbellifer that is great to add a zing to blue and purple colour schemes.  Common Fennel can become invasive if left to its own devices, so try the 'Azoricum' variety ('Bulb Fennel' or 'Florence Fennel') that is reputed to be less invasive.

Angelica archangelica, Garden Angelica - below, bottom left.  Angelicas are statuesque, chunky umbellifers with an architectural feel.  Angelica archangelica has pale lime-green flowers up to 25cm across above sturdy purple stems, and can reach heights of two metres.  Other angelicas to try include Angelica Gigas, which has amazing purple flowers as well as stems, or Angelica dahurica, a slightly shorter, white-flowered variety.

Daucus carota 'Dara', Ornamental Carrot - below, bottom right.  'Dara' is an annual, whose umbels range from dusky pink to deep burgundy, sometimes varying in colour across a single flower-head.  The seed heads of this plant are lovely too - as it finishes flowering they close up into fluffy nest shapes.