say what? the bud of all buds on angelica gigas

crazy-budWHAT CRAZY KIND OF BUD IS THAT, and what’s going to come out of it? Scale hint: It’s the size of a dinner roll, or better, on a 5-foot stem.

gigasThe plant in question: Angelica gigas, a Korean native that behaves as a biennial or short-lived perennial in these parts. I grow it as the former, letting it sow around where wanted (and removing early on where not). Apparently I might be able to get some of the larger plants to bloom an extra year if I deadheaded them, instead of allowing them to go to seed.

A. gigas is a star of high-to-late summer, with 6-to-8-inch domed flowerheads of the darkest wine color in much of August or longer. But for me the show begins them those insane-looking buds form, always prompting garden visitors to ask “What’s that?” Indeed.

This most dramatic of angelicas wants moist soil, and is adaptable in my area to sun or shade, but seems happiest in bright shade (the old happy medium of gardening conditions).

To have a successful colony, as with any biennial, you need to be vigilant and not accidentally weed out your self-sown babies each spring. You also will need varying generations of plants: some at blooming age (one year old) and some babies (to bloom next year). So I suggest to get started you buy yourself some plants, perhaps at Annie’s Annuals or Digging Dog, and also some seed, maybe from Select Seeds or Jelitto, and start a happy if eccentric-looking family.

  1. leslie land says:

    Hi Fern

    While we’re waiting to hear from Margaret I can weigh in to say that while the flowers are edible, it’s candied angelica stems that are a time honored sweet — in Europe, anyway; they never seem to have caught on here.

    I’ve never made them, but I have candied lots of other unusual things (including cherry tomatoes) and the process is easy. There are recipes online.

    A very quick glance suggests that most of them don’t tell you when to harvest, but like most herbs angelica gets tough stems by the time it flowers so my guess is you’d have to choose between the food and the Margaret is SO right – flowers.

  2. samantha says:

    that first photo kinda reminded me of the photos by that lady who used to dress babies up as flowers…you know who i mean?

  3. margaret says:

    @Fern: I have no idea. Frankly, I never eat flowers, even though I garden without chemicals. It just never occurs to me to do so, though of course I know it’s OK in many cases. I guess we will have to look it up…

    @Leslie: Flowers, indeed. Wild things. Insane-looking, really.

    @Samantha: Yes, I do know who you mean…but don’t ask me her name. Oh, dear, another thing for me to look up. I promise I did not dress the Angelica; it came that way.

  4. Andrew Ritchie says:

    I took a beautiful photo of your angelicas in 2005 when I toured the place. It was my favourite spot – right near the side door where the planted bird bath is. I lingered there for a while and just watched them. The bees adored them, if I remember correctly. I adored them too.


  5. Tammy says:

    Wow! What a lovely and interesting plant. I have never seen it here (Texas) nor have I ever heard of it. I looked it up to see what zone it would grow in (4-8). May have to give it a try. Love the color and height.

  6. margaret says:

    @Andrew: Nice that you enjoyed, and have the photo memory.

    @Tammy: Definitely the shade (and regular watering) for you in TX.

    @Nancy: YES! Thanks.

    @Maggie: Must have been some wild sight, that boy of yours with that big plant.

  7. Carol, May Dreams Gardens says:

    For as long as I’ve gardened, you’d think I would have grown this before. Sadly, I haven’t. I’m adding it to my list!

  8. SandDuneDigger says:

    I would love to grow this … in fact, I’ve got some seeds that were given to me years ago. My challenge is how to integrate this and more exotic-looking plants in my somewhat stuffy … ok, prissy-looking … main garden. I saw a gorgeous small variegated banana plant at the nursery yesterday and fell in love with it, but couldn’t think of how it would fit in w/its stodgier peers (Annabelle hydrangea, blue lobelia, salvia guaranitica, imminent turtlehead, the odd cosmos). One of the things I love so much about your garden is how seamlessly you combine the familiar and the exotic … maybe you could give us some insight in a future design column?

  9. Barbara says:

    I have Angelica everywhere, zillions of huge and beautiful architectural plants. And it’s the one plant that EVERYbody gravitates to and asks about. I can’t imagine why it’s so unknown. But I know two people who told me they had it like I have and then one year it totally disappeared never to return (one in a PA garden, one in a CT garden). I wonder what caused that. And I am braced for that to happen to me, too. So far so good, for about 8 years now… Barbara

  10. margaret says:

    Welcome, Barbara. I think that too-careful cleanup in spring is death to many a biennial baby. If we don’t time our cleanup.mulching right, we can fail to see them emerge and smother/destroy in various ways. Dry, hot conditions will also set this plant back I think, especially from sowing around.

  11. Barbara says:

    The recipe I found for candied Angelica (it was on http://www.recipeland.com , but I found it by just doing a search for it), is an English source. It uses the stalks, not the flowers, which surprised me. Just young, tender stalks in April or May, chopped into 3-4 inch lengths, cooked in boiling water for about 5 minutes, then drained and dried, and covered with granulated sugar and left for 2 – 3 days. Then drained, “strewn” with sugar, and baked on low in an oven for about 3 hours. “Packed into pretty little boxes, home-candied angelica makes a charming present.” The actual recipe is a bit more detailed, of course, but this is the general idea. Has anyone tried it? I was surprised that the flowers weren’t the part candied. Maybe the French use the flowers, while the Brits use the stalks? The flowers must be naturally sweet because the bees adore them.

  12. Melinda says:

    This is a wonderfully dramatic plant and I can see it next to something pink!

    I love candied angelica. You cut it in leaf shape and with piped flowers on cakes – it looks sweet!

  13. Karen T says:

    Oh, I grew Angelica gigas in my Napa garden and it was fascinating to watch it unfold, to the point that I bored people with daily accounts of its progress.

    I miss that plant …

  14. Leigh Williams says:

    Oddest of coincidences, this. I picked up a cooking book on Viennese pastries at a second-hand shop, and have been glancing through it at odd moments. One of the recipes calls for angelica (for the decorations).

    From the picture, it seemed clear the angelica was some sort of green stem-ish thing — it made me think of green onions. I couldn’t imagine what in the world it was and how it could possibly relate to ornamental angelicas.

    And darned if this thread didn’t answer those questions, literally late in the same day I asked them.

    Synchronicity is so strange . . .

  15. margaret says:

    Welcome, Leigh Williams. Yes, the angelica synchronicity is wonderful. Don’t you love when these things happen: You wonder something and a moment later it’s answered.

    I think the Angelica you all want for candying is Angelica archangelica, the herb-garden variety. Here’s a page with the link to The Herb Society of America’s fact sheet on that great plant.

  16. Honey Sharp says:

    Something about the bud – particularly the red wine and white color reminds me of a Jack-in-the-Pulpit.
    Since I don’t see any buds on mine though, do I l just let them sit there or have they done their past thing and it’s time to pull them out?

  17. ann says:

    People in my small town ask me, “What is that plant?”
    (DO they suspect it is that other weed)
    My lawn has suffered for years under spruce trees
    and drought and Kochia took over spots
    so I transplanted angelica seedlings
    and threw in zinnia and marigold seeds and with
    help of mother nature and all this rain
    A Miracle..
    PS I have the more common yellow blooming
    Please send me seed for purple…

  18. Pat Webster says:

    Amazing plant! And amazing how few people know about it. I’m growing it in Quebec’s Eastern Townships with mixed success — more successfully when I neglect it than when I look after it. And isn’t that a fabulous way to garden!

  19. ann says:

    Fabulous in many ways of living.
    Free seed arrived from Chilthern and with these
    extreme temperature changes, will soon germinate.
    Miracles in every seed and a great way to obtain
    plants. Doesn’t hurt that is much cheaper than buying
    plants that are grown commercially. Go Quebec.

  20. David says:

    A couple years ago, when you first ran the story about these Giga’s, I purchased some babies from Digging Dog. Mortality rate was high, but one is now blooming. It is really a great color and the bees are drunk with joy as they all but sleep on it.

    We also have a much taller, and not purple, version of Angelica. They are somewhat prehistoric…. and that name, Angelica, always makes me think of Dark Shadows….lol…

    best wishes

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, David — and yes, it’s hard to get it to cooperate sometimes, I agree. But when it does…what a hilarious late-summer plant. I think the bees and here even more so the wasps do practically sleep on it, you’re right. See you soon again, I hope.

  21. Brenna says:

    I purchased this last fall (it wasn’t in bloom) at the Hollister House garden day. I have been mesmerized by its growth habit and delightfully surprised when the blooms appeared – I had no idea! Do I need to let it go to seed to get my future bloomers?

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Brenna — and yes, you will need to carefully cultivate some of the self-sowns (don’t clean up too aggressively in the area where you sown them, e.g., come spring) so that you have new babies for year after next to bloom. Meantime, probably good to get a 1-year-old plant (that hasn’t bloomed) as well — so you will have multiple generations and not miss bloom.

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