From feathery dill to lacy cow parsley, we find umbellifers are perfect for creating suggestions of a wilder landscape and attracting butterflies and other insects to your garden.
The Umbelliferae are a family of mostly aromatic plants with hollow stems. A harbinger of summer, umbellifers were once only seen in potagers and meadows, but the disc-shaped heads of these hollow-stemmed, aromatic plants are increasingly being used to add depth and interest to garden borders.
Pictured, Chaerophyllum hirsutum (hairy chervil); prefers full sun and a poorly drained soil.
The magic of these floaty flowerheads made them an appealing artistic device for practitioners of Art Nouveau. They also appeared in Lucienne Day’s 1951 Calyx textile design for the Festival of Britain.
Pictured, Orlaya grandiflora; Rosemary Alexander, of The English Gardening School, recommends this is best grown from seed the previous autumn.
As a large and varied family, there is an umbellifer for almost every setting – to give structure, texture and rhythm to a border, and for both sun and shade.
Pictured, the greena nd white domes of Ammi visnaga, a good filler plant. After flowering, its sculptural seed pods work well set against dark dahlias.
The plants can give interest from the start of spring long into the following winter, provided you do not deadhead the florets but leave them to be crisped by frost. Allowing the flowers to run to seed will also attract wildlife to your garden.
Pictured, Foeniculum vulgare; remove flower heads immediately after flowering to prevent it from self-seeding. The pale flowers look splendid set against the intense blue spires of Perovskia atriplicifolia.
The May-flowering Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ (pictured) is less invasive than other forms of hedgerow cow parsley and will offer textural contrast to a border of more articulated plants, such as Salvia argentea, Allium schubertii and spiky Acanthus mollis.
Astrantia major (pictured) makes a valuable edging plant and looks good with Geranium ‘Brookside’ and G. sylvaticum ‘Album’.
Eryngium bourgatii (sea holly) (pictured) is spiky and thistle-like, so not a classic umbellifer, but it is ideal for gravel gardens in full sun. It flowers from mid to late summer.
Eryngium giganteum (pictured) is shortlived but works well with grasses such as Anemanthele lessoniana.
The intense carmine pink of insect-attracting Achillea millefolium ‘Rose Madder’ (pictured) makes this a star at the front of a bright border.
See beautiful umbellifer displays at the following gardens:
Scampston Walled Garden (Piet Oudolf borders), North Yorks, 01944 759111
Trentham Gardens (borders by Piet Oudolf and Tom Stuart-Smith), Stoke-on-Trent, 01782 646646
RHS Hyde Hall (dry garden), Essex, 0845 265 8071
RHS Wisley (borders by Piet Oudolf and Tom Stuart-Smith and elsewhere in the garden), Surrey, 0845 260 9000
Merriments Garden & Nursery (perennial borders with umbellifers), East Sussex, 01580 860666
Find a selection of umbellifers to buy at the following nurseries: