‘…when the cow parsley seems to grow a few feet in weeks and the hawthorn blossom is always there too… if this were Japan at a time like this, there would be thousands driving round taking it all in; here, we’re lucky, we have it all to ourselves.’
This is David Hockney describing the arrival of spring in his native Yorkshire. I love David Hockney’s work for its abundance, its inquisitive nature and for his sheer ‘joy of looking’! He has to be Britain’s most beloved living artist, who in 2012, opened an epic exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, entitled: The Bigger Picture. The exhibition featured over 150 landscapes which were painted over a period of time to capture the changes and beauty of the different seasons. I was lucky enough to see this exhibition and it had such a profound effect on the way I look at colours.
I honestly don’t believe there is a time when the landscape looks ‘dull and grey’ – there is always colour in the natural world wherever we are and as Hockney says, ‘You need to look, and then look again!’ This dense white froth of cow parsley or ‘Queen Anne’s Lace’, with its tiny white flowers on towering umbrella-like stalks, looks stunning along our hedgerows, roadsides and fields during May. But although it provides an excellent source of nectar for many pollinators and insects, cow parsley is taking over the countryside! Every 10 years the Government funds a Countryside Survey and recent figures show that that there is almost half as much cow parsley again as there was 30 years ago….research suggests (article: The Independent Monday 14 May 2014) that there are two potential reasons for this increase; the way we manage roadsides today and the increased fertility in our landscape as a result of intensive farming.
Years ago farmers would cut roadside verges and use it for hay so the grass and other plants would be removed, but now they are mown by councils and left, thus adding nutrients to the soil making it more fertile.
This is bad news for many of our native wild flowers as they thrive best on poor soil. So into this nutrient rich environment come the ‘heavy mob’…in first place the stinging nettles, second place goes to brambles and in third place – cow parsley, all of these grow so densely that our native wild flowers don’t get a look in.
If like me, you love the shape and white flowers of cow parsley but wouldn’t dream of bringing it into your garden, then a great alternative to grow is Ammi Majus (Posh Cow Parsley!), a more delicate, lacy form of cow parsley which won’t invade your garden! I love Ammi.
It’s so useful as a seasonal ‘filler’ flower in bouquets and arrangements, and an invaluable ingredient for summer weddings to create a natural flowing, wild, countryside style.