PLANT OF THE WEEK #53: Ammi majus

Ammi majus is one of an extremely short list of plants that could be described as almost too good to be true.

‘Typical McCoy hyperbole’ you think?  Here’s the justification for such a would statement, in bullet points

  • It’s a great team player – pretty in the extreme but not overly showy, making great visual partnerships with the flowers and foliage of virtually all surrounding planting
  • It has fabulous form in bud, flower and seed
  • Once you’ve introduced it, via young plants or via seed, it’ll likely self-sow
  • It can be sown in autumn for spring flowering, and/or spring for summer flowering, and/or (if you have water for irrigation) summer for autumn flowering
  • Its flower to foliage ratio is very favourable, with the flowers sitting high above the foliage – a great benefit when you’re growing it as a supporting act ie to make surrounding flowers look better
  • It’s remarkably drought tolerant
  • You can, to some extent, control its ultimate height by cutting out the central leader once the plant approaches the desired height.

But, of course, it’s not perfect.  Again, in bullet points

  • It can self-sow a little too enthusiastically, particularly in autumn, so that you’re forced to thin the seedlings out.  Not doing so can end up with tall, thin plants that don’t flower for long, shade out everything in the vicinity, and fall over, in one great leaning crowd, during flowering time
  • It can go down to disease during flowering time – particularly if stressed (which mine usually are, with no water to give them).  This is accompanied by a silvering of the leaf, and wilting, both of which point to some sort of sucking insect being the culprit, though I can’t way I’ve seen any with the naked eye.

So it’s very clear that the pros far outweighs the cons.

Autumn sown/winter grown plants will build up much greater bulk and strength than those sown at other times.  My winter-grown plants will often flower in November/December at 2m.  Spring sown, summer grown plants will flower in late summer/early autumn at about half this height.  As much as I love the height of winter-grown plants, I find that they’re often entirely out of proportion with the surrounding plants, to the extent that there’s no visual connection between them.  It’s also highly recommended to stake the super-tall plants, as they’re very often top-heavy.  In order to minimise both of these challenges I often take the central ‘leader’ out of each of the plants at about 1m high.  This minimises the need for staking and brings the flowers down to a height more companionable with the relatively shorter flowering of late spring/early summer flowering perennials.

Unless, of course, I’ve planted them with white foxgloves.  In that case, I stake, then let rip.

Magic.

In what season does Ammi majus work best for you, and what kind of intervention (eg staking? height control?) do you find that it requires?

Discussion

  1. I planted seedlings in my brand new garden last year and was so grateful to have the rapid growth and flower spectacle but I did leave them to dry and this year I have a million seedlings across my not so sparse young garden
    I have pulled the majority of seedlings out easily so will still be grateful for their show

  2. I prefer ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) – flowers as good, reliably perennial, beautiful leaves and freshens up beautifully if cut down after flowering.

  3. Ground elder…………… a strong feeling of trepidation took me by surprise when reading that name. Its origin is from very early in my childhood, and deeply held. It is not a plant I have a personal experience of in Australia, but I remember so vividly my father’s perpetual fight with it in our garden in the UK. It could never be eradicated, and it seemed to want to take over the world!
    On the other hand, I have wanted to grow Ammi majus for atleast 10 years – eversince Fergus Garrett introduced me to it at an Australian Landscape Conference, and have bought seed from time to time – but the seed just sits in my pile of seed packets and never gets sewn! Indeed, I find I have a new packet sitting on my desk this evening. I wonder if it is too late to sew it now?

    1. Not too late Jacquie – in fact it’s the perfect time. Does ‘sew’ also go back to your English gardening background, or does your keyboard autocorrect after your covid-driven tapestry obsession in 2020?

  4. It’s absolutely fabulous in the dryish sands of Perth. We have a Mediterranean climate so we wait for the ‘break of the season’ in May and then sow. I usually also throw around some peony poppies, cosmos and some Queen Anne’s lace – which is similar but much taller and in my opinion not as good at Ammi – which we call Bishop’s Lace. Most people in Perth mulch heavily to conserve water – so I recommend raking it to one side before scattering the seed as it needs contact with the soil to germinate. It’s also the time to sow our native WA daisies. If you want to buy some from the most amazing souce look out for WA Daisies website – it’s run by a friend of mine, John Colwill – a gardening legend who has the widest range of this seed (all cultivated not wild harvested) for sale from an extraordinary range of plants. It’s worth a look even if you don’t want to buy anything as surprisingly the daisy family is the second biggest genera or plants in WA after orchids.

    1. Such valuable information. Thanks for that. At what height does the Ammi flower, when sown at that time, Deryn?

  5. Hi Michael about a metre tall.

Leave a Comment

More Blog Posts

Frost in Feb?

Yep.  This morning the windscreen was iced over – the wipers frozen into immobility. It was the second frost this February – the last being last Wednesday, which happened also to be a total fire ...

Lurking behind the elegance

I’m in a kind of melt over Lilium formosanum.  I’ve known it for 30 years, from gardening around it at Ripponlea, but have never (inexpicably) grown it myself until now. It is a truly remarkable ...

PLANT OF THE WEEK #9: Eschscholzia californica

One of my favourite games to play in surveying a sumptuously planted border or naturalistic-style garden is ‘spot the annual’.  Long ago in gardening lore, annual and perennial borders were very ...