One of the stars of our late summer pollinator garden is Angelica, whose umbels of tiny flowers invite insect and butterfly activity galore. Angelica are biennials, and most of you know this means that seed sown this year grow roots and foliage, with flowers appearing in year two. The hope is that once planted, the Angelica will self sow, providing progeny for years to come. Hmm, sounds good, but….
Angelica germinates best after the seed has been exposed to cold temperatures. If plants are allowed to self sow in the garden, the seed naturally gets a long winter chill, and wakes up with the spring rains. When this works, it’s wonderful! In our experience this is not always something to be counted on. What if the seed germinates but then a dry spell settles in and you are too busy to observe and water?
We choose not leave our supply up to chance. After collecting seed in the fall, we store it envelopes in a cool dry space. In February we sow the seed in a slightly dampened germinating mix and let it sit for 2 weeks at room temperature (60-72F). We then transfer the seed flat, enclosed with a sealed baggie, into the refrigerator (35-40F) for 4-6 weeks (you could also try leaving the flat in a safe spot outdoors). In April, we transfer the seed flat out to germinate under 60-70F conditions. Once the seedlings have developed first true leaves, we transplant them into deep 2” tubes (Angelica do develop a taproot). When plants are established enough they can be transplanted into the garden, or in our case, into deep nursery quart pots for retail sales.
There are numerous species; here are a few of our favorites. Angelica gigas, native to Korea has bolder foliage with dense deep wine globular umbels. Angelica stricta ‘Purpurea’. (aka A. sylvestris purpurea) hails from northern Europe and has dark tinted stems and foliage, with 4’ stems bearing dark purple flower buds opening maturing to lavender-pink, followed by attractive seed heads. There is a species native to parts of the US, including New England, Angelica atropurpurea, (Purple angelica) which has medicinal uses, plus it is quite ornamental with tall red tinted stems and green to white umbels.
If you want to grow Angelica in large swaths of your garden, why not order seed and sow this winter. You’ll have to wait a year for blossoms, but you’ll have dozens of plants. Or, compromise. Purchase a few established first year plants and get them in the ground this year for color and activity next, but still sow seed next winter for your endless supply.