It's the summer of cornflowers
The perfect plant for your summer garden – cornflowers! Coming in deep blues and shades of pink, maroon and white, these ruffled flowers make a lovely addition to a border or garden path.
If you visited BBC Gardeners’ World Live, you would have seen Paul Stone’s headline A Garden Fit for a King, which overflowed with beautiful cornflowers. Scroll down to see the photo gallery.
Read on for expert growing tips from our friends at BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine and, if you’re looking for more inspiration for the season ahead, get tickets for the BBC Gardeners’ World Autumn Fair at Audley End House & Gardens from 1-3 September 2023.
Growing and caring for cornflowers
Grow cornflowers in sun and well-drained soil, sowing seed directly into weed-free ground or into pots, in spring. Thin out the resulting seedlings. After that, little care is needed apart from deadheading to encourage more blooms.
Grow as a gap-filler in any bare spots in borders, as part of a seed mix to create an annual flowering meadow, or in pots. Well-drained soil is best, and sun for at least half the day. Cornflowers do best in soil with low fertility so there’s no need to add fertilizer or organic matter.
Cornflowers in pots need a general-purpose , peat-free potting compost mixed with a third by volume of coarse grit. Shorter-growing varieties are best for pots as taller ones tend to flop without support. Be aware that cornflowers bloom for around 10-12 weeks, which isn’t as long as many summer-flowering bedding plants.
Ideally, sow seeds directly where plants are to flower. Otherwise sow in seed trays and harden them off before planting out in spring, spaced 15cm apart.
Remove faded flower heads to encourage more blooms to form. Once flowering is over, you can pull up and compost the plants, or leave them to self seed and provide food for birds such as goldfinches.
Cornflowers usually self-seed readily, but if you want to save the seed, collect it from the faded flowers. Store the seed in an envelope and sow from early spring to early summer, 0.5-1cm deep, either in drills, or simply by scattering the seed and lightly raking to cover with soil. Thin the resulting seedlings to 10-15cm apart. Making several sowings throughout spring will ensure a succession of flowers through summer.
If ground or weather conditions do not permit outdoor sowing, an alternative is to sow in modular trays or small pots under cover in an unheated greenhouse or polythene tunnel.