A long-time favourite of cottage and flower gardeners everywhere, the perennial cornflower, or great blue-bottle, is one of those indispensable performers that links late spring with the main summer season.
Growing in a wide range of soil conditions in sun or part-shade, often where little else seems to thrive, this semi-evergreen produces a tutu of quill-like petals on (60cm) 2ft stems clothed with lance-shaped mid-green leaves, covered in wool beneath.
The original species is fairly widespread in the mountains and meadows of Southern Europe, an indicator of its tough constitution – largely due to its deep, questing roots that overcome dry conditions at surface, leaving it perky while thirstier plants flop.
The one thing it won’t tolerate, however, is constantly wet conditions. While the wild species has blossoms of an intense cornflower blue, there are a number of colour variants and recent introductions have improved the substance of the flowers and introduced deeper pinks, purples, bi-colours and even dark maroon shades that appear almost black.
All make good cut flowers for small vases. Trimmed back after flowering it will soon produce a sheaf of fresh new foliage and blossoms. It’s a plant that can be planted and left alone, making it ideal for wild gardens and naturalising in rough meadows.
Once established plants can spread to form colonies, particularly in fertile soil.
After transplanting any thick roots left behind readily produce new plantlets - one reason why it has naturalised in the UK.
Great cornflowers to try
Amethyst in Snow
Distinctive, elegant pale pink flowers. From: Mac Plants www.macplants.co.uk
Golden leaves show off the blue flowers. From: From: Mac Plants www.macplants.co.uk
Plum-purple flowers feature on this recent variety. From: www.crocus.co.uk
Variety with fuller proportioned pink petals. From: www.hardysplants.co.uk
Lady Flora Hastings
Lovely white flowers with pale mauve centre. From: www.plantpref.co.uk