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Spring Froth: Eye-Catching Umbels for the Flower Garden

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Spring Froth: Eye-Catching Umbels for the Flower Garden

May 4, 2023

May can be a challenging time in the flower garden. After the fireworks of the spring bulb displays, which need little in the way of a supporting act, only the earliest perennials are usually in flower. The intense purples of honesty (Lunaria annua) and sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis), the delicate flowers of the Geranium phaeum varieties, and a smattering of alliums add much needed color. But spring umbellifers can help unite these early blooms and sometimes provide a punchy moment in the borders, too. Here are some of our favorites.

Above: Angelica archangelica is a fantastic feature plant that shoots up in early spring from a base of glossy leaves and sends up chunky purple and green stems that are topped by enormous lime green umbels. It provides a great focal point long before the spires of mid-summer arrive and will self seed if left over winter. Photograph by Howard Sooley.
Ammi visnaga is a shorter, chunker alternative to the more billowy Ammi majus, growing to around two feet tall. It&#8\2\17;s a wonderful companion plant to stronger colored perennials, including verbena, and is a useful filler plant for cutting, too.
Above: Ammi visnaga is a shorter, chunker alternative to the more billowy Ammi majus, growing to around two feet tall. It’s a wonderful companion plant to stronger colored perennials, including verbena, and is a useful filler plant for cutting, too.
Above: In Sarah Price’s gold medal winning garden for the Chelsea Flower Show back in 2012, cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) mingled with grasses including Deschampsia cespitosa and umbels of wild valerian. Since then it has been ushered into the garden from its usual spot in woodland edges and hedgerows. While the magical froth is an intoxicating sight in early May, beware how readily it will self seed. Unless you have time to weed it out it’s best restricted to wilder areas of the garden.
Above: Delicate and dramatic, Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ is a form of cow parsley with dramatic dark stems and foliage topped with pinkish white flowers. It looks stunning grown amongst dark and moody red peonies.
Above: The delicate pink airy umbels of Pimpinella major ‘Rosea’ flower from early June and look beautiful with late flowering tulips and alliums. If you are buying seeds then they are best direct sown in autumn as they need winter to germinate. £2.85 from Chiltern Seeds
Above: They’re not necessarily an umbellifer but some alliums can provide a similar silhouette in the flower border. Nectaroscordum siculum—seen here in Pollyanna Wilkinson’s garden at the 2022 Chelsea Flower Show—has honeyed pink candelabra flowers and is a magnet to bees. It looks wonderful amidst pink and burgundy flowers or wafting above nepeta or hardy geraniums. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.
Above: Selinium wallichianum is a perennial with lush green, ferny foliage; burgundy stems; and umbels with creamy white flowers. A little later to flower than many other short umbels listed here and with sculptural seedheads that can be left as structure through autumn and winter. Photograph by Jason Ingram.

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