One of the benefits of membership in the American Horticultural Society is the arrival of The American Gardener every other month. This month the cover photo was of an Eryngium or sea holly, and the amazing news that this is a relative of parsley. This isn’t exactly one of the weird and wonderful facts I love to collect, but I certainly found it unexpected. The delightful and informative article by Barbara Perry Lawton catalogs a number of other umbelliferae. like angelica which can grow to 8 feet with lime green domed umbles, sweet cicely, an anise flavored herb which prefers some shade, unlike most herbs, astrantia, and golden Alexanders
After admiring the sea hollies on the Bridge of Flowers for a couple of years I added the striking ‘Blue Sapphire’ to my garden this year and I love it. I had never thought of it as an umbelliferae, but the center of this flower is an umbel. “The characteristic inflorescence shared by family members is called an umbel. . . umbels are composed of multiple florets that fadiate from a single spot at the end of a main stem, giving the inflorescence an umbrella like appearance.” Queen Anne’s lace is another perfect and familiar example of this family.
In the article Lawton, author of Parsleys, Fennels and Queen Anne’s Lace, published by Timber Press, tells the story of the notable British gardener Miss Ellen Willmott (1858-1934) who was known for the magnificent gardens at Warley Place. Miss Willmott loved the Eryngium giganteum so much that she took to dropping seeds of this plant in other gardens when she visited. Soon people were calling it Miss Willmott’s ghost. I always enjoyed the idea of Miss Willmott surreptitiously spreading this plant she loved so much. Because of her gardens she won many awards, and had several plants named in her honor. I own a white Miss Willmott lilac. Alas, she spent her whole great fortune on her gardens and became more and more eccentric. By the time of her death was living in only three rooms of her great home.