Umbrella Plants

I love making little bouquets out of dried out Queen Anne’s lace. They are like little baskets with dried stars on the end. When it snows – the baskets catch the snow in clumps. It’s one of those things that you won’t notice unless you get outside and walk around.

It’s that umbrella shape that’s so intriguing. The Umbelliferae family – carrots, parsnips, cilantro, anything with a flower in that characteristic umbrella – is a great family to start planting now. I think this family is the family of magic and mystery. Carrots and parsnips grow invisibly under ground for months. Sometimes I even forget about them, and then suddenly they pop up out of the ground – their sugary tap root saying, “I’m ready to eat now!”

And dill and fennel attract butterfly larvae (or caterpillars) – making nurseries for swallowtails. When any of these plants bloom – their cup-shaped structure makes it easy for beneficial beetles like lady bugs, lightening bugs, and soldier beetles to fall into them in their clumsy pollinating fashion. The smells and tastes of parsley, fennel, and cilantro are surprising light and distinctive at the same time.

My favorite part of any plant is eating it. Eating and sharing food experiences are what make a plant alive and interesting. This past summer the preschoolers I had in the garden LOVED dill. They’d ask to pick it and eat right off the plant as soon as they walked in the garden. Once they made tabbouleh and Love-ee – one of the preschoolers – ate a whole fistful of parsley raw.

Last night I got a new idea for this beautiful family. A gardener from Madisonville brought dill pickled carrots to the Neighborhood Garden meeting and potluck! They were delicious! A friend of mine grew purple haze carrots in her garden this summer. They were sweet and beautiful. How much fun would it be to make purple pickled carrots!

Spring has such anticipation. I just can’t contain my excitement and the dreaming and scheming of food and garden experiences to come this summer. My parsnips, carrots, and cilantro are in the ground – waiting to germinate. And I am itching to get more Umbelliferae in the ground as soon as I am able.

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