In the Garden: Cow parsley in display... nature at its best

Cow parsley is a sight associated with the start of summer, says Olive Ryan in her weekly column
In the Garden: Cow parsley in display... nature at its best

Lastyear’s carrot crop starting to flower in the polytunnel. Picture: Olive Ryan

WE are fast approaching peak cow parsley time of the year - one of my favourite times in nature and in the garden as everything is so fresh and full of life.

The frothy effect that cow parsley (anthriscus sylvestris) gives to roadside verges and ditches, as these short-lived perennial plants push up flowers that reach over a metre in height with their umbel-shaped blossoms, is just nature at its best. A sight associated with the start of summer.

Currently, the combination of cow parsley and white thorn is a joy to behold driving along country roads.

Cow parsley does well in full sun and partial shade with the woodland edge a favourite habitat.

A number of plants they are often confused with grow in the wild - alexanders, wild carrot, hemlock and hogweed - all bearing umbelliferous flowers also, but many of them are poisonous so best avoided!

A number of plants can help bring this frothy effect to beds and borders, many of which have attractive, finely cut foliage in addition to their delicate flowers. Some of the best include an annual plant, Orlaya grandiflora, also known as white lace flowers, which bears pure white flowers similar to candy tuft on stems up to a metre in height.

Melanoselinum decipiens is a more bulky, robust, exotic-looking plant native to Maderia that flowers in its second or third year and dies after flowering. It produces masses of pink umbel-shaped flowers on a dense bush of glossy green leaves. It freely self seeds and the seed heads provide an attractive and architectural addition to beds and borders when finished flowering. It can get to a height of two metres and spread of 1.5 metres so does require some space to display itself to its full potential.

Selinum wallichianum, or milk parsley, is a perennial native to the Himalayas, found commonly on open, sunny, free-draining slopes. It can get to over a metre in height and spread, producing white flowers atop ferny delicate foliage. The seed heads are also attractive and can be left in situ after flowering.

The carrot (dacus carota), if left in the ground unharvested, will flower in the second year as it is a biennial that we grow as an annual. These grow and store food in the root in the first year.

Some plants that went unharvested in the polytunnel are just about to flower and produce delicate umbels of white fizz! 

Dacus carotta ‘Dara’ produces various shades of pink and white in the flower, producing an attractive effect.

Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ is a red foliaged form of cow parsley that adds texture and froth early in the year. It will seed itself freely in the garden so do dead head before it runs to seed, if this is not desirable.

Ammi majus, or Queen Annes Lace, is a delicately flowering hardy annual plant producing white lacy flowers throughout the summer. Great as a filler in the border planted through perennials like phlox, alstromeria and verbena.

Ferula communia is a great spring /early summer addition to gardens with its mounds of finely-cut, dark green foliage and tall branched spires of bright yellow flowers which arise in June and can reach over three metres in height in early summer.

This is summer dormant, with the plant disappearing beneath the soil and the foliage reappearing in the autumn.  It will do best in a sheltered spot in full sun on a free-draining soil and adds lots of drama to the garden when in flower.

All these umbelliferous plants are not only attractive aesthetically in the garden, their flowers provide valuable food for pollinators, many early in the year when it is needed most, bringing hover flies, butterflies, moths and bees. 

They also make excellent cut flowers, adding softness and summer to a bunch of flowers. Many of the seed heads can also be used in winter arrangements. They have plenty to recommend them, adding a different texture, some subtle colour, and foliage effect also.

The garden is in abundance right now and there is lots to look forward to in the weeks ahead. Chelsea Flower Show is in full swing this weekend in London, with the latest in cutting edge garden design and innovation displayed, plant displays and floral creations to be discovered in the Great Pavilion, and trade stands to be explored across the 23-acre site.

A little closer to home, the Mallow Garden Festival runs this weekend at the racecourse. Over 150 exhibitors provide home improvements, garden design, local and artisan food products, DIY, and self build advice and products. Admission is €15 for adults and children are free, with the doors opening at 11am until 6pm daily. A great day out for all of the family.

The following week sees the return of Bloom in the Phoenix Park, with five days of the best of food, gardening and craft on offer in the capital.

It is a great time in the garden and there is plenty of inspiration to be gained from attending these wonderful festivals, which are returning after a two year absence. Enjoy being inspired!

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130

Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more