Growing Cornflowers from Seed

Cornflower Header

There’s nothing quite like the sight of the true intense blue of Cornflowers scattered like jewels through a flowery meadow. I’ve been lucky enough to see them growing with golden yellow Corn Marigolds and the happy white daisies of Corn Chamomile. Sometimes there are flashes of scarlet from the papery petals of our native field Poppy too. A wildflower meadow is a truly amazing sight!

Wild Cornflowers Centaurea cyanus and Wild Poppies Papaver rhoeas

Cornflowers are popular with both people and wildlife. I love them for their early summer colour. There’s nothing quite like the clear, intense blue of Cornflowers. They bring back memories of happy times such as family picnics in the countryside, a garden visit or best of all happy days in granny’s garden. Insects love them for their flowers too. Cornflowers supply pollen and nectar for bees and lots of other beneficial insects. Once the flowers are over their seeds provide food for small mammals and birds such as Goldfinches.

Wild Cornflowers growing with Corn Marigolds Chrysanthemum segetum and Corn Chamomile Anthemis arvensis

Cornflowers are endangered! Did you know?

Before farming intensified in the UK in the 1960’s Cornflowers grew wild with crops such as wheat, barley, oats and rye. Today many farmers consider wildflowers to be weeds because they contaminate their crops. Herbicides are still widely used to eradicate them.

In the UK now, wild cornflowers are classified as endangered. Wildflower meadows they love to grow in, have declined from 264 sites in 1960, to 50 sites in 1985 and in 1998 there were just 3 sites left, one in Suffolk, one on the Isle of Wight and one in Lincolnshire. 

The good news is that Cornflowers are quick to grow, and their numbers can recover. Over the past 20 years various national bodies including the Wildlife Trust have been working to reintroduce Cornflowers across the UK. One of the best displays can be seen at College Lake in Buckinghamshire and there are lots of other sites too. I’ve seen them growing in wildflower meadows at National Trust gardens and a nearby caravan site had a large strip of mixed wildflowers including Cornflowers in the grass verge at their site entrance last summer.

You have probably seen plenty of articles and TV programmes encouraging you to grow wildflowers to provide food and habitat for wildlife. The thinking is, if all gardeners did this it would help turn the tide in the decline of bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. That’s a great idea and such an easy thing to do to help pollinating insects. Do we need to stick to wildflowers though?

In fact both the wild Cornflowers and the ‘improved’ cultivated/man-made varieties are good for wildlife.
Both produce pollen, nectar and seeds which feed insects, small mammals and birds. So which to choose?
The choice is entirely yours.

Here’s some details about both types of Cornflowers to help you decide which is best for you.

Which Cornflowers are best?

Centaurea cyanus is our native wild Cornflower. Seeds are available from many online seed suppliers including Country Garden UK of course!  They grow to around 60cm tall and have many well branched stems with a beautiful blue flower at the top of each. Each grey/green cotton stems looks delicate but is quite sturdy. Each flower has one ring of blue ray flowers. These are lovely in wildflower meadows or even just a small wild patch in a garden growing with other delicate looking plants. If you have a wilder, more naturalistic garden or space for a mini meadow you may prefer to go down the wildflower route.

Centaurea cyanus, our native wild Cornflower.

The cultivated Cornflower is also widely available and there are several names for this blue cornflower, Centaurea ‘Double Blue’, ‘Blue Boy’ or ‘Blue Ball’. They have been enhanced by selective breeding to produce more garden worthy plants. They have the usual grey/green cotton stems but they are much taller (90cm+) so will need staking or the support of pea and been netting stretched horizontally. Flower heads are larger too. Each flower has TWO rings of ray flowers so a small group of these has much more colour and impact in the garden.

Wild Cornflower on the left, cultivated Cornflowers on the right.
Cornflower Double Blue/Blue Boy

They are also available in other colours such as pink, red, purple, black and white or a lovely mixture. These larger cultivated forms are all excellent for providing a relaxed country feel in cottage gardens. They’re great for cut flowers, for edible petals and for drying to make wedding confetti too.

Centaurea cyanus cultivars.

How to Grow Cornflowers

If you are thinking about growing Cornflowers, either our native wild form or a cultivated variety then late winter – spring is a great time to sow seeds. Sow cornflower seeds either indoors in late February/March. You can sow them in modules, one or two seeds per cell or scatter a few seeds in a wooden seed tray if you prefer not to use plastic. Sow outdoors when it’s warm enough. In the UK that’s usually from April onwards, they need temperatures of 10-16°C to germinate. Cornflowers usually take just 10 or 11 weeks to flower from a spring sowing. (You’ll find full growing details in the shop… just search for Cornflower or Centaurea)

Cornflower seedlings growing in modules.

You can also sow Cornflowers in late summer to early autumn. The soil is still warm from summer and there’s usually plenty of rain too so they will germinate quickly and romp away. It’s easy to scatter the seeds where you want them to flower and just let them grow. They are Hardy Annuals. They’ll produce nice sturdy plants this autumn and flower next year from May onwards.

Just in case you’re wondering what I do… here’s the answer. I grow some wild cornflowers in the wilder areas of my garden and cultivated varieties in my cutting patch. I usually sow Cornflower seeds in autumn and spring. That gives me a longer flowering period with a succession of blooms. Autumn sown plants flower first starting in May and they are followed by the spring sown plants in July and August. It’s lovely to have plenty of flowers for cutting and lots of food in the form of nectar and seeds for our wild creatures too.

I’d love to know what you think. Do you prefer wild or cultivated flowers? Which are your favourite Cornflowers? Are you growing them in your garden, cutting garden or allotment this year?

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. It’s great to hear from you! Love Gillian x

PS: Cornflowers are available in the shop now individually, with Ammi majus and in the Wildflower Collection.

Seeds to Sow In November

Spring is traditionally the main sowing season for many gardeners. However there are many reasons why autumn is the best time to sow flower seeds.

If you are planning to grow a lot of flowers and you know that spring will be extremely busy for you then you can get a head start now. Besides, autumn sown plants are amazingly vigorous, often larger and taller with nice long stems for cutting. Another bonus is that they’ll flower slightly earlier. So if you are itching to get cutting your home grown flowers then sow them now! There are several groups of plants to choose from.

Sweet Peas

November is Sweet Pea month. Autumn is a great time to sow Sweet Peas Lathyrus odoratus. There are several reasons to sow sweet peas now including:

1) You’ll have your pick of the varieties of Sweet Pea seeds if you order them now.

2) They will produce an excellent root system ready for planting out.

2) Autumn sown sweet peas produce the most vigorous plants and slightly earlier flowers too.

There are lots of sweet peas to choose from. You can pick individual varieties such as the tasteful, pale and interesting High Scent, Molly Rilstone and Betty Maiden. If you prefer darker and more dramatic flowers then Blue Velvet, Cupani and Beaujolais may be more up your street. If you only have the space to grow one row of Sweet Peas then it’s probably best to choose a mixture such as Just Peachy, Blue Ocean, Cocoa Mix or In the Pink.

Hardy Annuals

If you live in a very mild area of the UK you can carry on sowing some super Hardy Annual Fillers such as Ammi majus, Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ and Dill, Anethum ‘Mariska’ outdoors in November. Many flowers will do well if sown now too. Poppies, Cornflowers, Californian Poppies, Scabious, Marigolds and Clarkia are some of the best. There are some seeds such as Nigella that actually need a cold spell to break their dormancy.

You will need to get your plants going before it becomes too cold for them to grow. The aim is to get your plants to produce good foliage and roots before winter, so It’s best to do this as soon as possible. You’ll always get the strongest plants with the most flowers by sowing in autumn and you’ll save precious time in spring when there are lots of other jobs to do.  If you can’t sow them outside now because it’s too cold and wet then you can sow them in an unheated greenhouse or a coldframe.

Wild Flowers

Autumn is a great time to sow Wild Flowers too. British Wild Flowers are quite hardy and will survive the worst of our winter weather as long as any newly germinated seedlings have protection from the frost. If you live in a cold and frosty part of the UK then I recommend sowing them in plugs indoors. I usually start them off on my kitchen windowsill. Once they are growing, they can cope with much lower temperatures. Move them outside to a sheltered place such as a cold frame, porch or unheated greenhouse.

Some Wild Flowers I recommend are Oxeye Daisies Leucanthemum vulgare and of course the much loved bright red British Field Poppy Papaver rhoeas. As soon as temperatures warm up in spring your wildflowers will start producing more shoots and leaves and can be planted out ready for flowering in early summer 

The Meadow Maker, Yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor is very useful too but must be sown where you want it to grow as it needs grass to grow with. For full details see Growing Information in the Wildflowers category in the Shop.

Hardy Perennials

There are some perennial flowers that you can sow in November. They are easy to grow and produce flowers year after year.  The beauty of perennials is that they are fast growing, give you lots of flowers for cutting and your garden wildlife will love them too. Perennials produce plenty of food (seeds) and places to hide and overwinter (hollow stems and seed heads) for your garden wildlife.

I recommend the beautiful blue Globe Thistle Echinops ritro and Sea Holly Eryngium alpinum, plus Rose Campion Lychnis coronaria which comes in either tasteful white or bright magenta pink. Don’t forget you can grow Perennial Sweet Peas Lathyrus latifolius from seed too. There’s a more limited range of colours than annual Sweet Peas. They come in white, pale pink and a much deeper pink/red colour. They are also available in individual colours or as a mixed packet of seeds.

A word of caution Please don’t sow Half Hardy Annuals now. (Cosmos, Dahlias, Sunflowers and Zinnias… see Half Hardy Annuals category in the shop for a full list) They are tender plants used to the sunnier climate in places like Mexico and will not survive the cold wet weather here in the UK.

So there’s just a taste of some lovely plants you can sow in autumn. I hope it helped you to decide what you’d like to grow for 2020. Wishing you a very happy and flower filled month. Love Gillian 🙂

Flower Seeds to Sow in September

Growing flowers for cutting in your garden or allotment is becoming very popular now. Some say it’s because we are concerned about the air miles and cost to the environment that flying in flowers from places like Africa and South America brings. There’s concern about the repeated use of pesticides too which linger on the flowers we ship in. There’s no doubt that it feels good to buy locally grown flowers and even grow them ourselves in our own gardens. We know that they’ve been grown without harmful chemicals and there’s a much wider range to choose from, including deliciously scented blooms.

Concern about the environment and wildlife is real, but I think it goes much deeper than that. I believe that growing flowers is linked to our urge to be creative. Creativity is something that everyone has. It may have been squished to the very bottom of your very long ‘to do’ list but it’s there all the same. Have you always promised yourself that one day you’ll grow a beautiful garden, learn to paint or simply take time to make things? That’s evidence of your creative urge. If you’re not allowing yourself to do what you really want to do, then you might feel sad or frustrated and that’s not a great feeling. So perhaps now is the time to put that right!

On Friday on Gardeners World, Frances Tophill visited Helena Willcocks a Florist and Flower Grower at her allotment in London. It was a short clip, but they did manage to fit in a super quick tour of some of her flower beds and a spot of flower arranging too. It was beautiful and inspiring, but what shone out of the TV more than anything else was how both Frances and Helena were enjoying themselves to the full. There’s no doubt that there’s something absolutely amazing about growing and arranging your own flowers. If you missed it you can watch it on the BBC iPlayer Episode 25

Here’s Helena with a huge bunch of Ammi majus and a one of her beautiful flower arrangements. If you click the photo you can see her Instagram feed.

HelenaWillcocks @theallotmentflorist

If you’ve always wanted to have a go at growing your own flowers, then September is a great time to start. Stick to Hardy Annuals to start so you don’t need any expensive equipment. Simply prepare the ground (remove weeds then work the soil to a fine tilth) then sow the seeds where you want them to flower next year.
All the following seeds are completely hardy and very easy to grow.

Hardy Annual Fillers to Sow in September

Hardy Annual Fillers
Row 1 Ammi majus, Anethum Mariska and Orlaya grandiflora
Row 2 Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens, Nigella (distinctive seedheads) and Ammi visnaga
Row 3 Daucus carota, Bupleurum and Nigella

Hardy Annual Flowers to Sow in September

Flowers:

Row 1 Scabiosa atropurpurea Button flowers in tasteful shades of white, pink and soft blue plus bright red and almost black too.
Row 2 Larkspur produce tall spires of blooms in pink, white and blue shades. Calendula officinalis Marigolds are often the first to flower in my garden and are loved by bees and butterflies.
Row 3 Clarkia, Salvia and Centaurea.
Clarkia is beautiful, fast and very cold tolerant. Every bud will open in the vase. Salvia viridis comes in white, blue, pink and mixed and is exceptionally long flowering. Centuarea cyanus. Cornflowers grow in a range of colours and are particularly lovely with Ammi

Eschscholzia californica. Californian Poppies are low growing and brilliant for wildlife and posies. Sow them with Gypsophila for a stunning combination.

Eschscholzia californica with Gypsophila

Papaver somniferum: Papery Poppy flowers are plentiful and followed by fat seed pods. I love the darkly dramatic Papaver ‘Lauren’s Grape’ (below) and if you want seeds for bread baking then Papaver ‘Maanzaad is the one to grow.

Papaver somniferum Laurens Grape

If you watched the clip of Helena and Frances, as well as all the lovely Hardy Annuals you may have noticed beds full of Half Hardy Annuals such as Cosmos, Zinnias and Dahlias. These are all brilliant for late summer colour because they are perennials in their native countries (Mexico and South America) and they will just go on and on flowering here until they are blasted by frost. In some very sheltered gardens, you’ll have flowers from June until November or even December if you are lucky.

Half Hardy Annuals will not survive our wet and cold winter weather. Eventually all UK gardens will have frost, driving rain and bitingly cold winds which will polish them off. Can you tell I’m not looking forward to winter one little bit? You can sow them indoors now if you have a heated greenhouse and a sheltered garden but I’d only suggest that for slow growing Antirrhinum (Snap Dragons) as all the others are much faster to grow.

Sow Antirrhinum under cover to get it off to a great start

It’s usually best to wait until the gentle warm days of spring to sow Half Hardy Annuals. They are very quick to germinate and grow so in just a few weeks you’ll soon have lots of beautiful blooms. And YES, you can grow Dahlias from seed which is brilliant if you want a lot of flowers for cutting to sell in mixed bunches.

Half Hardy Annuals to Sow Next Year inc Dahlias, Rudbeckia and Cosmos

If you want to make sure you get specific Half Hardy Annuals for next summer, you can buy the seeds now and store them in a cool dry place over autumn and winter. Sow them indoors in March and April if you have a greenhouse, if not just wait until May when the soil has warmed up then sow them directly where you want them to flower. Couldn’t be easier!

Of course, you don’t have to grow your own flowers. You can buy them locally and there’s nothing quite like fresh scented flowers in the house. You’ll find British growers at your local market and there are florists all over the UK like Helena growing flowers for sale and for special events.

Which are your favourite flowers?

Are you growing your own flowers for cutting?

Wishing you a very happy and flowery September. Love Gillian

Seeds to Sow in January

I’ve started to think about what I’d like to grow this year. Naturally I’ll be growing plants for our bees and butterflies and I also like to grow flowers specifically for cutting.

I love to have fresh flowers indoors and of course I love to receive flowers as a gift…

Continue reading Seeds to Sow in January

3 Reasons to Grow Sweet Peas in Autumn

Let’s get straight to the point… Autumn sown Sweet Peas produce

  1. Stronger plants with a good root system
  2. Healthier plants with better disease resistance
  3. Masses of scented flowers for cutting

There’s no reason to wait until spring as long as you have a small covered area to protect them from the worst of the winter weather.

Continue reading 3 Reasons to Grow Sweet Peas in Autumn

How to Grow Rudbeckia Cherry Brandy

Rudbeckia hirta Cherry Brandy is a fabulously glamorous plant. With huge crimson red blooms with a hint of golden brandy colouring and a long flowering period these plants are a great addition to the late summer garden. They are brilliant for cut flowers, to attract bees and butterflies or simply enjoy them in your beds and borders.

Continue reading How to Grow Rudbeckia Cherry Brandy

Wallflower Giant Pink

 

Giant Pink Wallflowers are still available in the Pink and White Biennial Flowers Collection. I have a few boxes left and they will sell out fast so to be completely fair it’s first come first served. Sow them this month then your young plants will carry on growing whilst the soil is still warm this autumn. All the seeds in this collection are Hardy Biennials so they will not only survive but thrive outside throughout the winter months then burst into life again in spring. You’ll have a good selection of early pink and white blooms which are lovely in the garden with tulips, perfect for pollinators and excellent for cut flowers of course. There are 6 packets of seed in this collection for £9.95.

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Growing Lettuce from Seed

At the start of every new year my thoughts turn towards healthy eating. Not just because I over indulged over the holiday period. Coffee and Mince Pie anyone? Now’s the time of year to start growing healthy food for your garden and kitchen. If you haven’t grown your own food before one of the best plants to start with is Lettuce, mainly because it’s quick and very easy to grow.

Did you know that commercially produced lettuce is sprayed with insecticides, pesticides and herbicides about 10 times before it’s ready for sale? Honestly… that’s enough to put you off your salad!

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Sowing Sweet Peas in Autumn

lilac-sweet-peaOctober is a great month to sow Sweet Peas.

In fact if you sow them in October, November or December you will have much better plants and earlier flowers next year. They are easy to grow and super productive… for masses of scented flowers for cutting you can’t beat Sweet Peas! 

Continue reading Sowing Sweet Peas in Autumn

Sowing Biennials

Hesperis-MatronalisWhat are Biennials?

Biennials are hardy plants which grow roots and foliage this year then flower next year. Sown in summer they have around eight months to produce super strong healthy plants which are capable of producing lots of lovely strong flower stems from late spring onwards.

Why grow Biennials? Biennials are brilliant for early flowers next year. They usually start blooming in May and finish in July although there are exceptions. A patch of Hesperis (Sweet Rocket) in our garden has been flowering since April and is still producing lovely pale purple blooms in August. If you like to grow flowers for your home or you have a special event in late spring or maybe you are planning to sell cut flowers next year…  you’ll find biennials very reliable and super productive. They are inexpensive to grow from seed, healthy and vigorous and more to the point don’t need much attention from the gardener.
What’s not to love?

Continue reading Sowing Biennials