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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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?