There’s a thrill in the air

Rutherglen Reformer - - Hose & Home - Diar­muid Gavin

Driv­ing around Bri­tain re­cently, there was plenty of flora to ad­mire in the coun­try­side – the hedgerows were heavy with May tree blos­soms and I caught tantalising glimpses of wood­lands car­peted with blue­bells.

I’ve not been in­volved in the Chelsea Flower Show this year but I was re­minded of it when I ob­served the road­side verges full of cow pars­ley which has long been a favourite of show gar­den de­sign­ers at this time of year.

This wild plant has de­light­ful ferny fo­liage and is topped with sprays of white flow­ers.

Look more closely and you will see the flow­ers are at the end of tiny stems splayed like an um­brella.

This tells you it’s an um­bel­lifer and its rel­a­tives in the plant world in­clude car­rots, pars­ley, parsnips, an­gel­ica and cel­ery.

It’s a use­ful plant be­cause it be­longs to a group of herba­ceous plants that are best de­scribed as “floaty” – they drift del­i­cately through the bor­der, their wispy white flow­ers ap­pear­ing as if to float mag­i­cally in the air.

Re­cently I wrote about store cup­board peren­ni­als – the hardy foot sol­diers such as gera­nium and al­chemilla, who are as tough as old boots, work hard and never let you down.

The floaty plants are more like chif­fon and or­ganza, their fragility adding an ethe­real touch to the gar­den.

There are other um­bel­lif­ers that pro­vide a light el­e­gance. Also flow­er­ing in May is Or­laya gran­di­flora, the white lace flower, a very pretty hardy an­nual which will keep flow­er­ing through the sum­mer. Di­rect sow in spring, or this au­tumn for ear­lier flow­er­ing next year. Or you can di­rect sow Bishop’s weed, Ammi ma­jus, into the ground now and have lovely lacey white flow­ers later in the sum­mer. For a touch of pink froth­i­ness, try Chaero­phyl­lum ‘Ro­seum’, hairy chervil, which has lovely um­bels of pale pink flow­ers. It’s peren­nial but with um­bel­lif­ers you don’t lift and divide to prop­a­gate. Like their car­rot cousins, they have a tap root which can’t be split apart.

They’re not fond of be­ing moved any­way so your best bet is to col­lect seed in au­tumn and sow while fresh.

Much later in the sum­mer and into early au­tumn you can have Selinum wal­lichi­anum, the milk pars­ley which has lots of lacy white flow­ers atop sturdy green stems. It’s great for pro­vid­ing late sum­mer nec­tar for bees and but­ter­flies – in fact, all um­bels are great for at­tract­ing ben­e­fi­cial wildlife such as hov­er­flies.

But it’s not just um­bel­lif­ers that do this job. Other frothy or wispy plants you could in­clude in your bor­der are Va­le­ri­ana of­fic­i­nalis which I used in my Har­rods gar­den at the Chelsea Flower Show last year.

It caught the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion – ev­ery­one kept ask­ing “what is it?”.

It’s a tall na­tive wild­flower, com­monly known as va­le­rian or all heal and is com­monly used as a medic­i­nal herb to aid sleep.

It has very fra­grant white to pale pink flow­ers, is loved by but­ter­flies and bees, and is lovely in an in­for­mal or cot­tage gar­den.

Gyp­sophila or Baby’s Breath is widely used as a cut flower in bou­quets to pro­vide an airy con­trast to more solid flow­ers and can per­form a sim­i­lar func­tion in your bor­ders by cre­at­ing soft clouds of thou­sands of tiny white flow­ers. It’s drought tol­er­ant so could be a good choice if we’re in for a long hot sum­mer.

To­wards the end of the sum­mer you could en­joy San­guisor­bas which have soft pink or white bot­tle­brush flow­ers atop stems a me­tre high.

So, if you think your bor­ders looked a bit flat last year or you want a more ro­man­tic dreamy ef­fect, in­tro­duce some frothy glam­our this year!

Moo-ti­ful: Cow pars­ley Lace of spades: Gyp­sophila adds froth to the ground

Dream fields: Va­le­rian brings a floaty ro­man­tic feel to a gar­den

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