If you want to create a more relaxed, natural feel to your garden, try planting umbellifers. With their bold structure and frothy flowers, these plants are loved by pollinators and easy to grow. Here Richard Orton gives us a guide to his favourite umbellifers, which are all growing in his garden at Lewis Cottage, near Spreyton.

One of the dominant themes at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show was creating a more naturalistic look with buzzwords such as romantic, atmospheric, dreamy and tranquil often used. No family of plants epitomises these feelings more than the umbellifers.  

These are characterised by the disc shaped umbels made up of tiny flowers held on short flower stalks and include cow parsley, angelica, astrantia, fennel, dill and ammi majus amongst many others.

Creating a more naturalistic look

Used in flower beds, borders and wildflower areas, they bring an airy, relaxed feel to planting schemes, add movement in a similar way that grasses do and look especially good combined with wildflowers such as foxgloves and poppies.

Pollinators, in particular hoverflies, are attracted to umbellifers in part because the nectar stored here can be easily accessed. Their presence is a benign one, popping up each year with little help, filling in gaps in the most delicate fashion, so quietly that you hardly notice them growing.

Here are a few favourites of mine from the garden here at Lewis Cottage.

Cow Parsley – (Anthriscus sylvestris) is a common UK native plant, found growing in hedgerows, ditches and meadows. One of the most popular cultivars is called “Ravenswing” easily identified by its deep purple stems and foliage contrasting strikingly with white blooms.

Angelica – (Angelica archangelica) is a majestic biennial plant with huge, architectural flowerheads, contrasting well with its pink-purple suffused stems and bright green seed pods. Best planted at the back of a border or in a wild part of the garden where it can stand proudly above other plants. The flowerheads are beloved of pollinators and birds adore the seedheads. The variety A.Gigas with its striking purple/claret flowerheads is a highly prized architectural plant amongst contemporary garden designers.


Hairy Chervil – (Chaerophyllum hirsutum) you’re most likely to see the popular cultivar “Roseum” than any other and is very suitable for smaller gardens growing no higher than 1m with delicate pink flowers atop slender stems. Looks fabulous grown amongst knapweed and alliums.

Bishop’s Flower– (Ammi majus) Sown en masse amongst flower borders, its flowerheads drift, cloud like through shrubs and perennials. The delicately flat umbels are complimented by its cousin A.visnaga which has denser umbels the size of tennis balls. A green variety “Green Mist” adds to the colour spectrum available. Here at Lewis Cottage we sow seed in October and overwinter the seedlings. This gives the plants a head start come spring in the same way that autumn sown sweet peas do.

Variegated Ground Elder – (Aegopodium podagraria variegatum) It’s exactly the same plant as the dreaded weed, ground elder but variegated. However, it’s probably the most attractive variegated plant in the garden with lovely flat topped umbellifer flowers in summer. It is invasive (but far less so than its common relative) so plant with care. Great in dry spots where nothing else will thrive.

Variegated Ground Elder
Variegated Ground Elder

Common Hogweed – (Heracleum sphondylium) is often confused with its far taller cousin giant hogweed. Common hogweed grows to just two metres rather than five, though its sap is still toxic if it comes into contact with skin. Found in hedgerows, roadsides and waste ground, its stems, which often remain long after its flowers have faded, can house solitary bees during the winter so think twice before removing them from your garden until spring.

For more information about Lewis Cottage Garden and Nursery visit  https://www.lewiscottageplants.co.uk


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