For me, nothing celebrates the glorious month of May more than the wonderful froth of cow parsley. It is, I suppose technically a weed but it is a most beautiful one and at Columbine we love it.
We have it growing in our orchards, moat banks and under pleached lime trees planted with ‘White Triumphator’ and ‘Spring Green’ tulips. It is a dreamy combination. Cow parsley is an umbellifer and a good thing to have, as they attract a range of beneficial insects such as hoverflies and ladybirds into the garden. When crushed between my fingers, the leaves produce a wonderful, strong aniseed scent.
There is a cultivated variety called Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, with purple leaves and brown stems beneath the lacy, white flowers. It does cross-pollinate with the wild cow parsley, which means that the offspring quickly lose the intensity of their purple leaves, so if it is the main attraction for you then keep it away from its wild form. I confess I don’t mind at all as I am besotted by cow parsley in all its variations.
I try and capture the effervescence of cow parsley later in the year by planting annual umbellifers. Ammi majus is perhaps the best replica for wild cow parsley and there is Ammi visnaga that lasts well into July or even August. Orlaya grandiflora or the white laceflower, is another superb and graceful annual that flowers constantly all summer. But now, no other plant is giving us as much joy as cow parsley.