Very quickly, let’s start with…

What is an umbellifer?

Umbellifers are members of the parsley family of plants and often easily distinguished by their round ‘umbels’. These are, essentially, heads made up of many miniature flowers atop narrow stalks. Cow Parsley is one of the most distinctive and quickly-recognisable umbellifers, and the look that we often seek out when wanting to bring these plants into our gardens – but there are also other examples such as Eryngium (Sea Holly) or Astrantia that can give a similar but slightly different effect. Incidentally, both of these are plants that commonly feature in Dig gardens. Sea Holly or Eryngium is a firm favourite in our Mediterranean theme and Astrantia feature beautifully in The Cottage.

Here are a few alternative umbellifers to Cow Parsley to consider bringing into your own garden or outdoor space: 

Anthriscus sylvestris

Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ is a cultivar (i.e. a version of a plant created with a bit of human selective breeding intervention!) of common cow parsley. It has beautiful purple leaves and produces very elegant flowers. Sophisticated and a little bit different. With lots of other good cultivars like ‘Ebony’ and ‘Bishop’s Mead’, there are plenty of varieties of this short lived perennial to choose from. Many offer the same lovely purple leaves and fluffy flowers.

Ammi majus

This is a beautiful, delicate annual. Perfect for adding instant impact for a single year. Ammi majus does self-seed, but not too rampantly.


Fennel is also an umbellifer – by which we very much mean Fennel the edible plant. If you can find it, bronze fennel is particularly lovely – offering the same effect but with dark bronze leaves and stems. Loved by pollinators (as are all umbellifers) Fennel can romp around and take over, so best to plant in a pot unless planning to indulge in a spot of chaos gardening.  If you’d like to add another, smaller umbellifer to your herb garden, Dill makes a great pairing.

Daucus carota ‘Dara’

Common carrot plants have varieties like ‘Dara’ which have been cultivated to be purely ornamental. They are becoming more and more popular and it’s easy to see why.


As mentioned at the top, our beloved Astrantia also fall into umbellifer terrority. They’re quite different in appearance from your typical umbellifer but can achieve a similar effect – especially when planted in multiples. They are well behaved and come in many beautiful varieties but are particularly smart in dusky pastels and soft pinks. A classic addition to any Cottage garden – rising above lower bedding and foliage, creating elegant pops of waist high colour.

Eryngium or Sea Holly

This spiky, thistle-like plant is also an umbellifer. They’re pollinator magnets and, once flowering has finished in the autumn, retain their structure making excellent winter interest once the cold and frost sets in. A favourite plant in our Mediterranean theme, they work very well with aromatic herbs, and soft grasses.

Fancy adding some Umbellifers to your garden, but don’t know where to start? Take a look at our theme The Cottage, which often comes with plentiful Astrantia and The Mediterranean, which tends to include Eryngium.