How to grow umbellifers

By Val Bourne, Thursday 25 July 2013

These airy plants with delicate flowers are at the height of fashion with their cow parsley-like flowers and strong architectural shape.
Hoverflies love the tiny flowers of umbellifers like this astrantiaHoverflies love the tiny flowers of umbellifers like this astrantia
The foliage is often deliciously lacy and sometimes the stems are attractively sheathed. There are annuals, biennials and perennials and many of this edible family have long tap roots, including the carrot and parsnip. Some have edible leaves used in cooking, as with parsley and dill, or edible stems like celery.  

Umbellifers also make good plants for organic and natural gardeners because their small flowers suit the tiny mouths of the hoverfly and the green-flowered forms also attract flies. Many hoverflies lay their eggs near colonies of aphids and their parasitic larvae gobble them up. Flies make good pollinators, as do hoverflies. So both are useful.

Growing umbellifers

This family also need warm temperatures to stimulate germination and this is why gardeners tip hot water on to the soil when planting parsley seeds. Early carrots are often sown into ground that has been warmed up by cloches, again to stimulate warmth. 

The seeds tend to be large and easy to handle but, being tap-rooted, they resent disturbance so the best method is to plant one or two seeds into small 3-inch pots, rather than pricking them out. Umbellifers tend to prefer well-drained soil in winter followed by summer moisture, so water the pots before sowing and then keep them on the dry side. Germination can be very poor if the soil becomes waterlogged.

Annual umbellifers

Top tip - sow Ammi seeds in late-summer and early autumn and you will produce much larger plants.

Ammi majus (The Bishop’s Flower)

Clouds of dainty white domes of starry flower held above billowing green foliage. Makes a large busy plant and good as a cut flower with dark scabious (Scabiosa puropurea) and sweet peas.

Ammi visnaga

Earlier flowering than Ammi majus and looking like a wild carrot with flowers that open to white before fading and twisting up to a green head.

Daucus carrota ‘Black Knight’

This is a dark-flowered carrot with moody mauve head of flowers, more open and rounder than the typical carrot. It will flower until late in the year and, although just available her, it has been grown on the Continent and in Scandinavia for a few years.

Orlaya grandiflora  (White Lace Flower)

The spiky, large brown seeds germinate easily producing white flowers set above grey, lacy foliage. The inner florets are tiny, but surrounded by larger white petals so it’s showy. Grows best in light shade and sulks in cool summers. 

Ridolfia segetum ‘Gold Spray’ (Corn Parsley)

Acid-green to golden-yellow fine fennel-like flowers. This annual weed native of the Mediterranean region is new to me, although I am growing it this year. Probably not fully hardy. 

Biennials/Monocarpic Perennials (ie they die after flowering)

Angelica archangelica

The statuesque lime-green umbels of this giant, man-high angelica are traditionally out by by May 8 (Archangel Day). Usefully this biennial will thrive in deep shade. It sets copious amounts of seeds - so beware.

Seseli gummiferum

One for a hot spot, with grey, finely-cut foliage and white flowers. From the Crimea and the Aegean and not easy in cool gardens. When the stems are cut they leach a gummy substance. 

Smyrnium perfoliatum

A spring-flowering umbellifer which can light light up dappled shade, with strong stems clothes in yellow clasping foliage below a head of yellow flowers. The big, black seeds are difficult to grow in a pot, so allow it to self-seed.

Angelica gigas

This Korean angelica is grown in fields as an aphrodisiac in Asia, but it can struggle in cool British gardens and in cool British summers. if it flowers the wine-red umbels are terrific.


Myrrhus odoratus (Sweet Cicely)

May-flowering umbellifer mostly for the vegetable patch. Use one leaf in stewed rhubarb and less sugar will be needed. The large black seeds can be eaten and it does self seed.

Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Raven’s Wing’ Dark Queen Anne’s Lace

The darker form of our native cow parsley produces pink flowers in May, above dusky filigree foliage. Long-lived and it does self-seed and the dark seedlings (roughly 50%) show their dark leaves from the start.

Cenolophium denudatum (Baltic Parsley)

Widely used at the Chelsea Flower Show, with large white heads formed by lots of smaller dainty umbels. The foliage is green and ferny and this plant dries well.

Angelica hispanica

This knee-high angelica has very shiny foliage and green flowers, so it isn’t strongly architectural. However it does live for many years.

Bupleurum longifolium

A short perennial (90 cm/3ft) with bright-green oblong leaves and early-summer heads of bronze-eyed flowers surrounded by round green bracts. Self-seeds, not badly so.

Bupleurum fruticosum

One of the very few shrubby umbellifers, with olive-like foliage and lime-green umbels in August. Forming a roundel (2 m x 2m/ 6ft x 6ft).

Astrantia major (Hattie’s Pincushion)

May-flowering pincushions which belong to this family, although the umbel is compressed. Long-lived and pretty. The paler forms (such as ‘Buckland’) repeat flower and the dark-red forms peak in May, but flush in September.

Read Val Bourne every month in Saga Magazine

Follow Saga Magazine on Twitter



  • Penstemon 'Hidcote Pink'

    Late-season performers

    Many of the best plants for late season colour come from Central and Southern America and they tend to flower more prolifically as the days shorten because in the wild they get evenly balanced days and nights.

    Read on

  • Carrots

    How to grow carrots

    Carrots are one of the easiest and tastiest crops to grow as long as you get your timing right. Find out how to grow the best carrots.

    Read on

  • Ammi Buplerum and Marigold

    How to attract more helpful insects during summer

    Gardening expert Val Bourne advises a reader on attracting beneficial insects to help control pests organically.

    Read on

  • Verbena

    How to grow hardy verbenas

    Many gardeners only used to associate verbenas with tender bedding plants, but the popularity of the willowy Verbena bonariensis proved that some make excellent, hardy plants.

    Read on

  • Heleniums

    Ten August-peaking plants

    Can you recommend some plants that do well in August, whatever the weather?

    Read on

  • Val Bourne

    How do I treat aphids?

    I've found aphids in my greenhouse and many of my plants are sticky to the touch. How do I treat them?

    Read on

  • Parsnips

    How to grow parsnips

    Find out how to grow parnsips, when to harvest and which varieties are best.

    Read on

  • Gold daisies and Mediterranean aromatic plants do well in August

    Keeping the garden going

    August is a dire month for gardens. The soil is dry, the light is uninspiring and many plants are already on the downhill slope. But there are remedies.

    Read on

  • Singin' in the Rain

    Encore theatre tickets

    Great deals and exclusive offers for Saga customers on West End theatre tickets, including matinee club offers, meet the cast events and 2 for 1 deals.


  • Saga Book Shop


  • Saga Shop

    Fantastic prices and free standard P&P to UK mainland deliveries.



Thank you for your comment. It has been sent to our editors who will post it as soon as possible.

Type your comment here

 characters remaining.

Save 25% on RHS membership

Special offer for Saga readers

Be inspired with access to more than 150 RHS and partner gardens, plus enjoy priority bookings to the biggest garden shows in the country including RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Annual membership from £41.25.

Get two pre-planted hanging baskets for just £19.99

Plus free delivery and free hydrator

Get two pre-planted Petunia 'Magica' hanging baskets for masses of cascading pink, purple, pink bicolour and white flowers.

More gardening articles

Browse our extensive archive for more gardening news and tips from our gardening experts.

More gardening articles

Browse our extensive archive for more gardening news and advice from our gardening experts.