Hand sown cornflowers fill my spring garden with a landscape of vivid blues. These lowly half wild plants captured my heart decades ago. Perhaps it is the annual flower’s willingness to grow from seed. Maybe it’s just the delicious shades of blue you get for so little effort. But I think it is the bouquet of fresh cut flowers that I find so charming. To grow richly colored Centaurea ‘Blue Diadem’, shop for this named variety online at Thompson & Morgan (link below). This old annual, Centaurea cyanus is a native of the Mediterranean. It popped up all too often in grain fields and thus earned the name cornflower. (Korn is the ancient word for grains in the Old World). But this plant also goes by bachelor’s button because the fluffy blossoms were often plucked by young men to wear on the lapel. This is because the flowers are resistant to wilting and thus became a beloved early American cut flower on farms and ranches. This is a hardy annual that can be sown in fall or winter to germinate in garden soil in spring. This is how it survived naturally in the wild and in the fields. Therefore no special care is needed to make them perform, so it’s a great choice for novice gardeners on a budget who save money by growing from seed. It is an old rule to sow this seed sparsely and allow plenty of room between plants, probably to ensure that mildew does not attack them during the early season when the garden tends to be perpetually damp. Mixtures of Centaurea cyanus will include pink and purple along with the traditional blue flowers.
Originally cornflowers were a simple daisy, but around the turn of the century breeding improved this plant for gardens. The truly fluffy double flowers provide more visible color in the garden and are more appealing as a cut flower. The wildflower blue has also broadened to include varying shades as well as varieties that bloom pink and white. Cornflowers have fallen out of style in recent years but they’re due for a comeback because they can be sown in the midst of winter or very early spring if the ground is not frozen. They provide a beautiful spring cut flower in warmer climates and bloom well into summer elsewhere. They also lend the quintessential country or cottage garden character. Seed sources are surprisingly limited and plants are rare in garden centers. Some general catalogs offer the standard mix packet and you can also find these in store seed rack displays. But if you want a good choice of color including the newer dark red, check out the US branch of the famous English seed house, Thompson & Morgan. Thompson & Morgan http://seeds.thompson-morgan.com/us/en/list/full-index/c/8 Because cornflowers germinate so readily, they make great mass sowings. You can buy seed in bulk for large scale applications from American Meadows. Simply till with a tractor or disk, broadcast the seed and let Nature do the rest! American Meadows http://www.americanmeadows.com/bulk_ind_detail.cfm?itemid=71