The Humble Umbel


This summer, we're embracing a familiar yet often overlooked shape in the garden: the umbel. An umbel is a cluster of flowers made up of several short stalks that spread from a common point, resembling the ribs of an umbrella. In fact, this botanical term is derived from the Latin word umbella, meaning "parasol" or "sunshade." Umbels are commonly found in plants belonging to the carrot family, including Queen Anne's lace, parsley, dill, and fennel. Read on to learn about six of our favorite varieties. 

1. Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris 'Purpurea'): Striking and unusual, this vibrant Angelica variety is also known as 'Vicar's Mead.' Growing 4-5' tall, its deep purple stems support umbels of delicate flower heads that range in color from greyish-pink to dark purple. Able to tolerate full sun, it thrives in rich soil with consistent moisture.

2. Yarrow (Achillea 'Terracotta'): Popular in Mediterranean landscapes, this colorful perennial blooms in shades of peach and burnt orange from midsummer through early fall. Extremely hardy, yarrow is tolerant of drought, heat, bright sun, and deer. Yarrow also attracts butterflies to the garden and helps to support pollinator populations.  

3. Garden Angelica (Angelica archangelica): Also known as wild celery or Norwegian angelica, this biennial is native to northern regions including Scandinavia, Russia, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. Historically used in folk medicine throughout Europe and Asia, it makes an impactful garden accent thanks to its remarkable height; the stems can reach up to 6' tall. Appearing in July and August, its flowers are a vivid shade of yellow-green. 

4. Annual Iberis (Iberis amara): Commonly known as " rocket candytuft," this hardy annual grows in the wild throughout Europe. Fast-growing, it reaches around 12" in height and can thrive in rock gardens or other landscapes with nutritionally poor soil. Its fragrant, white flowers emerge in summer, attracting butterflies and bees to the garden. 

5. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): Part of the carrot family, this perennial herb is native to the Mediterranean but is cultivated across the globe for its edible bulbs and seeds. Blooming in June and July, its compound umbels hold an abundance of tiny, yellow flowers. This self-seeding perennial is easy to grow year after year, and attracts butterflies to the garden. 

6. Dara Flowering Carrot (Daucus carota 'Dara'): Very similar to Queen Anne's Lace, this colorful wild carrot produces lacy umbels on stems that can reach 3-4' tall. Throughout the season, its flowers mature from white to pale pink and finally a deep, reddish purple. Wild carrots produce an abundance of blooms, which are excellent as cut flowers for summer bouquets. 

Photography credits: 1. Dizzie Goldfish; 2. John Shortland; 3. TheTurducken; 4. Katya; 5. Centre for Alternative Technology; 6. Bazzadarambler

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