Cottage Garden Favorites: Bachelor's Buttons (Cornflowers)
We often think of Bachelor’s Buttons or Cornflowers as old-fashioned flowers, but in reality, they are ancient. They have been grown for thousands of years as evidenced by the wreath of Bachelor’s Buttons found in King Tut’s tomb.
Bachelor's Buttons started out as a wildflower in Europe that grew freely in fields of grains which are known as corn in Britain, hence the name cornflower. They were also called "hurtsickle" because they blunted the cutting edges of the sickles that were used to harvest grains. They gained the name "Bachelor's Button" because young single men wore them as boutonnieres when they were courting. Folklore claimed that if the flower wilted quickly, it was a sign that the young man's romantic aspirations would fail.
Today, thanks to modern herbicides used in grain fields, cornflowers have almost disappeared as wildflowers. Thankfully, they have long been welcomed in our gardens so they haven't become extinct.
Bachelor's buttons are grown as annuals in all growing zones. They prefer full sun, but will grow in part shade. They reach their maximum height of 1- to 3 feet in full sun. However, as they grow taller they tend to fall over and need staking. They can tolerate dry conditions but prefer about 1 inch of water per week in well-drained soil.
Thanks to modern hybridization, the original blue flowered plants now also come in purple, pink and white. Modern hybrids are also more fully double, resembling carnations. They start blooming in early summer and if deadheaded will produce a second flush of flowers at the end of summer.
Bachelor's buttons are easily grown from seed. They should be direct sown in your garden after your last frost. Keep the seeds moist and they will germinate quickly, usually within one week to ten days. They will tolerate crowding but do best and bloom more if you thin the plants to 6- to 12 inches apart.
Bachelor's buttons will freely self-sow in your garden if you allow the flowers to go to seed. Alternatively, you can harvest the seed heads and sow the seeds again the following spring or share them with your gardening friends.
In Canada, bachelor's buttons are grown for use as cut flowers by florists. The flowers can also be dried for use in dried arrangements and wreaths.
The flowers are edible and are often used as part of an herbal tea blend. Bachelor's buttons are an ingredient in the famous Lady Grey blend made by Twinings of London, a well-known tea company.
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© 2014 Caren White