Round Robin: Angelic Purples

LANSING, New York–Making a cheesecake the other day, I recalled that when I lived in Europe and the Middle East I always put bits of candied angelica into my cheesecake. I’ve been unable to find candied angelica in stores here–I don’t know why. It has a marvelous flavor and is such a pleasant change from our eternal vanilla. One summer, following a recipe in an Australian herb book, I tried to candy some angelica from my garden. I failed miserably–it came out wet and soggy instead of firm and dry, as it should be.

I’ve had no better success with keeping angelica plants going than I’ve had with candying the stems. I’ve been told that preventing the plant from flowering will make it behave like a perennial, but who can bear to cut off the lovely umbels? When I’ve tried to have it both ways, leaving the flower heads until the plants begin to make seeds and then cutting them back, I’ve deprived myself of seed, and the plants still fail to reappear the following spring.

Angelica doesn’t really get as much water as it wants here. I have a friend whose garden is almost swampy. Her angelica grows tall and strong and self-sows so enthusiastically that, rather than cutting off the blossoms to keep the plants going, she must concern herself with keeping the jungle under control.

Have you grown the handsome, purple-leaved Angelica gigas? Try putting several plants toward the back of the border, perhaps among Gardenview Scarlet monarda, whose buds and bracts are wine black–very nearly the color of the angelica. Surround them with a colony of lilac Bluestocking monarda and a mass of pink and red Bright Eyes phlox. Toward the front of the border, try a few smoky purple perillas to pick up the color of the angelica again and a low mass of lavender Hidcote, whose violet spikes will echo with interest the color of Bluestocking’s fluffy explosions of blossom. Beside the lavender, you could have burgundy-leaved heucheras and silver-leaved mints, the latter sunk in clay pots to keep them from traveling. But enough. One does get carried away when thinking about plant combinations. If only it were as easy to move them around in the garden as it is to write about them!

While angelica and many other plants self-sow only when the earth is wet enough, others do so only when the earth around them is dry enough. When I was in Denver a year or so ago, Panayoti Kelaidis, curator of the splendid rock garden at the Denver Botanic Garden, generously shared seed of some of the plants I admired, among them a delicious silver-foliaged, intensely aromatic agastache with apricot and yellow flowers (Agastache barberi) and a beautiful horned poppy (Glaucium sp.), also silver, with apricot blossoms. These plants apparently move about the high, dry slopes of the Denver rock garden, taking care of themselves, but here in upstate New York, it’s undoubtedly too green, too damp and muggy for them to take off on their own. So I gather the seeds each year and assume the job of propagation ­myself. They are certainly worth the trouble.