Growing cow parsley

Posted: Monday 3 June 2013
by James Alexander-Sinclair

I made the mistake, many years ago, of thinking that cow parsley was so lovely that I planted it (or at least shook some seed around) in my garden.

Cow parsley

It is a very old and trusted maxim that ‘a weed is just a plant in the wrong place’. I don’t know who said it originally, but part of me rather wishes that it had been me. The other part of me wants to punch whoever coined the expression on the hooter. In certain circumstances, it can be really annoying - especially if you are in the middle of an all-out war against a particularly persistent weed.

Notwithstanding the irritation, it is a statement that is very true in many cases. Bindweed, for example, has glorious white trumpet flowers (it is related to the morning glory) and willowherb is very pretty. But, you would never want either in your garden if you had a choice. They have no idea of restraint or good manners, and rapidly regenerate themselves to smother and take over the garden.

From May to June, ‘weed of the week’ is cow parsley (also known as cow mumble, Queen Anne’s lace or ha-ho, depending on where you come from). Hedgerows and roadside verges are awash with this particular biennial*, and how very lovely it looks.

I made the mistake, many years ago, of thinking that cow parsley was so lovely that I planted it (or at least shook some seed around) in my garden. It very nearly took over the whole place and I had to be very sharp on weeding for a few years. Even now, the occasional specimen appears and I have to be very stern indeed. In fact, from where I sit at this precise moment, I can see some sticking out of the middle of a rodgersia… excuse me for a second.

In my garden, I do grow cow parsley’s more domesticated friends: Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, which has deep sultry purple stems, and Chaerophyllum hirsutum ‘Roseum’, which isn't as tall as cow parsley, but longer lived and with fine pink flowers. I now let the wild cow parsley romp around elsewhere, but still never fail to love it.

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jennyferrar 07/06/2013 at 15:25

You are lucky to be almost clear of cow parsley - I've been trying to get rid of it for over 40 years, but it's useful to put on the compost heap if you've lots of grass cuttings to dispose of.

judymay 08/06/2013 at 00:00

I do grow cow parsley. We have a very rare beetle living with us and that is what the parent beetles use for food. When it is going over I try to get it out before it seeds too much.

Mr. Raspberry 10/06/2013 at 09:05

I too love the flowers and allowed it to roam a bit in my garden. I always tried to get the flower heads off before they set seed, but this year as my wife has decreed it a weed needing extermination I have been pulling up the entire plants (anything for a quiet life). I'm sure it will return, "one years seeds is seven years weeds" but it still reminds me of my youth playing in an orchard smothered in it.

silverthorn 13/06/2013 at 20:02

I have a froth of parsley on one side of the lane to the house. It is magnificent and I want to bring it back to the other side where it has been suppressed by the lawn mower. Have had no problems with it growing where not needed. But ground elder and horsetail. How they thwart me.

Marion34 20/06/2013 at 20:34

I was thinking of growing cow parsley as it looks so good but have second thoughts now! Thanks for the warning.

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