A month of Karl

In the background of the main pic in my last post there was a fuzzy mix of Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and the annual Ammi majus, known here as Queen Anne’s lace.

The grass started flowering about a month ago.  It opens at anything between 1.2 and 1.8 metres depending on spring rainfall with fairly nondescript fuzzy flowers, albeit in a quite nice purple shade.  The stems are so slender and the flowers so fine that it dags around in the wind and splays right out after rain.  You can’t help but wonder if it’ll ever stand up again.

But the flowers are soon pollinated, and the grass starts to ripen

Like so many of these semi-transparent things, they’re so much better when placed where they can be back-lit in the afternoon

Then, within just a few weeks, the flowers have turned a rich brown and stand bolt-upright.  They’ll stay this way, though gradually fading to a pale straw, until winter.

Given that this grass does most of its growing and flowering early in the growing season it seems to be much less affected by summer drought than, say, the miscanthuses, which just don’t achieve their late summer flowering if it’s too dry for them.

The Ammi, by the way, was self-sown after a totally failed display in the desperate drought of last summer.  I shoved in a punnet of seedlings in spring before any of us knew that the dry was going to continue on for months.  The tiny plants immediately bolted, but managed to squeeze out a few flowers and seeds before frying.  The seed germinated in situ in autumn, and young plants (much stronger than those transplanted in spring) overwintered at about 15 – 20cm tall, looking pretty sorry for themselves. Time and again I thought that the combination of frost and freezing wind would finish them off. But the result was a spring/early summer display at head-height. Spring-sown, summer-flowering plants never achieve this height.  For myself, I want it big.


  1. Michael, thanks for the note about Ammi majus. Growing it for the first time this year, I was wondering what to do next. I liked the fowers, but bolting and quick degeneration was not so admirable. I’ll definitely try the “autumn trick”. Your combination looks great. I reckon my Calamagrostis clump, that’s currently just bulking up among the hazelnuts, will be divided and transplanted too. We are allowed to copy-cat, aren’t we? 🙂

    1. Don’t know if we’re allowed, Adele, but I do it all the time, albeit with a slight twinge of self-consciousness. Originality is way over-rated anyway.

  2. I have not grown ammi. I imagine I will get it in the UK. I especially appreciate those plants that will overwinter as seedlings or young plants to give early summer display

    1. I’ve got some fabulous pics of it in UK gardens, Roger, so I know its available. It’s also relevant to your excellent discussion on biennials (which others might like to look at on http://www.nodiggardener.co.uk/2013/11/what-is-biennial.html). It’s very clearly a hardy annual (as you’d call them in the UK. They’re called winter annuals here, which is another example of misleading names, as Ammi won’t flower in winter here, though it can be overwintered for late spring/early summer flowering). But it raises the question, then, why some biennials, like some of the wallflowers, which will flower in their first season if sown early enough, are not also considered hardy annuals. From my position of confessed ignorance, I wish that they’d separate hardy annuals and biennials on the basis of the requirement of winter to induce flowering, like in the old common foxgloves. Anything that doesn’t go through a winter gear shift (from vegetative to flowering growth), and can be induced to flower without winter should simply be thrown into the hardy annual category. What do you reckon?

    2. Roger, I’m fairly confident Ammi majus will grow in the UK – I saw it in the background of a scene from a British crime show! It was clearly summer, so I guess you’d sow it in spring (?).

  3. As a matter of interest, Ammi majus grows well up here in North Queensland (Townsville), provided it has a reasonably cold winter to put on the growth to get to head height (I’m a shade under 6 foot). I am aware that my definition of “cold” will vary markedly from southerners’ :D. I think the seed I’ve saved from previous generations (we’re up to the third, now) germinates at higher temperatures than its forebears. It bolts when it self-seeds (which is anywhere) but the miniature plants are so cute, like bonsai. Until they get run over with the lawnmower.

    1. Thanks so much for that Casey. I LOVE hearing this sort of thing, as I have millions of questions about the way cool-climate plants behave in the tropics, and no one to ask.. You’ve answered one inadvertently.
      When you mention the self-sown plants bolting immediately, are you referring to those plants that sow themselves in the hotter weather?
      Our definitions of ‘cold’ will vary, as you say, but your point about cold-weather height adds to my conviction that nearly all of the tall annuals (like Cosmos, Cleome, Tithonia, the really tall (2m) marigolds, Ammi etc) all get much taller, and much bulkier if they’re not stressed in the lead-up to flowering. Stress always seems to induce premature flowering, and that seems to also mark the end of the vegetative bulk-up period. But I’ll save that rant for another post..

    2. My Queen Anne’s Lace seeds in late winter/spring (errr…August/September?), although I usually leave the seed heads up for a good month after the plants have died off (I’m the *original* lazy gardener!). The bolters have sprung up in the lawn, and I grow the Ammi majus in one particular garden bed, so they’re definitely self-seeders, a process undoubtedly aided by the prolonged presence of the seed heads. I hadn’t noticed the plants until they’d flowered, so I’m not sure how long they’d been there. In the last two weeks, I’ve found a couple of seedlings coming up in “their” bed, which surprised me, as I thought they needed lower temperatures to germinate (which leads me to suspect that they’re adapting to the climate). Of course, they could simply be exceptions, rather than a harbinger of wider adaptation.
      As for tropical-weather questions about colder-climate plants, I’m happy to help. I’m still learning about gardening, but here’s my list of current crops & plants:
      * Pumpkin (Jap & Golden Nugget)
      * Tomato (Tommy Toe/Tiny Tim, Black Krim & an unknown cherry tomato variety)
      * Watermelon (Ice Cream & Candy Red)
      * Aloe vera, herbs & some bulbs, alyssum & canna (of course!)
      cheers 🙂

    3. Meant to add that I agree with you about plants bolting to seed when stressed (or stimulated? What about day degrees?) by hotter weather. The same thing happens to coriander up here: it just bolts to seed. I’ll have another go growing it come autumn.

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