Cornflowers - or Centaurea - are prized for their deep blue color - but they come in shades of red, pink and white as well. They are called cornflowers because they used to grow wild in the cornfields of Europe, and they can still be found along the wayside there. In some cases they have been wiped out of their native habitat due to the use of herbicides.
Luckily they are thriving in the gardens of many other countries where they never fail to delight those who love blue flowers - as blue seems to be the color mostly grown. Cornflowers are also called bachelor’s buttons, basket flowers, bluebottles or mountain bluet depending on the species.
The center of the flower is a cluster of disc florets from the edges of which ray florets spread in a fringe effect, either in a double or a single. The diameter varies between about 1.5 to 3cm, depending on the type. The leaves are of a pretty gray green and look spiky like a thistle, but are not. Herbalists claim that a decoction made of cornflower leaves is very soothing to the eyes.
Cornflowers will burst into bloom around late spring. Their height varies with the type of species or cultivars and can range from as small as 10 inches for the midget varieties - great for edging - to 30 inches and 48 inches for the basket species.
The taller varieties are valued as cut flowers as they last for a long time and can even be dried by cutting the fresh flowers after all dew has dried and hanging a bunch upside down in a dark airy place for a few weeks. They even keep their color.
Cornflowers can be either annual or perennial and they are easy to grow from seed, germinating in 7 to 10 days for annuals and a little longer for perennials. They grow in any kind of soil - though they do best in soil that is slightly alkaline. While the blooms don’t last more than two or three weeks, you can stagger the sowings to get a constant supply all summer. In fact the seed can be started off indoors to ensure early blooms.
Make sure you plant the seeds about half an inch deep as these seeds need to be in darkness to germinate. Cover the seed trays with plastic to keep them moist and warm. They need to be out in the garden before they reach four inches for the best growth.