Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

My Umbel Opinion ; the Umbel Drama Has Started Early This Year and Members of the Family Will Burst out and Froth along Our Roads and Verges until Autumn. Carol Tells You Which Make the Best Additions to Your Borders

Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

My Umbel Opinion ; the Umbel Drama Has Started Early This Year and Members of the Family Will Burst out and Froth along Our Roads and Verges until Autumn. Carol Tells You Which Make the Best Additions to Your Borders

Article excerpt

HAVING spent 15 years travelling to Chelsea Flower Show - where my nursery, Glebe Cottage Plants, exhibited - I recall the journey almost as much as the event.

Every year, as our lorry turned out of Pixie Lane at the start of the trip, we were met with ditches and verges effervescing with cow parsley. Scenes like this mark the opening act of the umbel drama. Throughout late spring, into summer and beyond, there will be members of the family carrying the torch. Hogweed, hemlock and wild carrot will adorn road verges and field edges, waste grounds and cliff edges.

This year, like so many plants, cow parsley is early. There are weeks to go until Chelsea but it is in full flower along our roads and in the garden.

Cow parsley, or Anthriscus sylvestris, has a host of common names, a sure sign of how fond of it we are. Queen Anne's lace is a popular epithet and perfectly describes the delicacy of the dainty flowers that make up each flower head as they appear in their hundreds.

This construction is typical of most umbels, sometimes composed of "umbellets" or "umbellules" - umbels of umbels. It is a form that gives members of this part of the family, especially those with white flowers - some are yellow and occasionally pink - a lightness and grace unmatched in any other plant family.

Most umbellifers have intricately detailed flowers. They can be seen on many levels, becoming more complex as we move in. Like a selection of frames from a movie, they yield different realities in the same head of flower.

From a distance Anthriscus sylvestris makes a fine, frothy picture, full of creamy softness.

Closer up, with the whole flower head in frame, we are aware of its structure, of the individual stems all emanating in a starburst from the summit of the main stem and each supporting its own smaller umbel of flowers.

We can move closer still to study each flower. Walk past any umbel on a sunny day and it will be alive with insects.

Although some insects have an umbel of choice, most seem to have catholic taste and at any one time there may be numerous species of flies, hoverflies and bees as well as a collection of beetles.

Wasps seem to be partial to angelicas, particularly Angelica gigas, with its magnificent platforms of crimson flowers. …

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