Plants little-seen provide delights in Western Pennsylvania gardens
Among my favorite annual flowers is the seldom-grown laceflower — Ammi majus. Also known as false Queen Anne's lace, this delicate umbrella-shaped flower is a knockout in the garden.
Laceflower is extremely easy to start from seed planted directly into the garden in the early spring, and once it is established, a self-sowing colony will form with new plants returning each season.
Ammi majus thrives in full-to-partial sun and requires little more than average garden soil with an occasional dose of organic matter. The plant's foliage looks a bit like cilantro (though it isn't edible), and mature plants reach up to 3 feet in height. Each flower cluster reaches 5 to 6 inches across and is similar to Queen Anne's Lace in both shape and color.
The delicate flowers are very welcoming to many different species of pollinating insects, as well as the beneficial insects that help keep pests in check. I often find my laceflower teeming with ladybugs, lacewings, syrphid flies and other beneficial insects.
A sister species, Ammi visnaga, is another great choice for Pennsylvania gardens. It, too, has large, white, umbrella-shaped flowers, though they are more densely packed than those of laceflower. The foliage of this species is lighter in color and very fine, earning it the common name of toothpick weed. Both species perform beautifully as cut flowers and both return from seed each season.
And there's one more plant with similar growth habits and flower shape that I should mention as being an excellent choice for our region: dill. This common herb is super-easy to grow and also bears umbrella-shaped flowers that are extremely attractive to beneficial insects. And, as an added bonus, you can often find the caterpillars of the beautiful black swallowtail butterfly feeding on the foliage.
Dill's flowers are a beautiful, light-yellow and the foliage is soft and fern-like. The flowers and leaves are useful in the kitchen. It, too, regularly returns to the garden via dropped seeds.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.