SURE, Centaurea cyanus (above, in my Kitchen Garden) provides charming, long-stemmed, azure-blue flowers all summer long. And yes, it is a magnet for honey bees and butterflies. But these are not the plant’s only attributes. It also offers valium for the eyes, and serenity for the soul. I discovered its tranquilizing properties when I was 9 years old:
I’ll admit that at nine years of age, I wasn’t particularly aware of “Bobby” Kennedy. But I knew my mother needed something to console her, and fast.
And here centauria came to the rescue. For great swaths of it grew in an empty lot across our street. I gathered 25 stems or so, stuck them in a mason jar, and presented this “bouquet” to my mother. You’d have thought I’d slipped her a valium. Her tears stopped, and a soft smile emerged from her lips.
Now, 43 years later, it would be extremely difficult to find these flowers for such an emergency. Most of their natural habitats — meadows and empty lots — have been given over to housing developments. The plants used to be found in cornfields, too until farmers began to routinely use Roundup at planting time. Consequently, if one wants to enjoy this bit of heaven on earth, one has to produce it for oneself.
Centauria is very easy to grow. You can winter-sow the hardy, annual seeds in January, as I do, and then transplant the young seedlings to the open garden in mid-April when the ground is still quite cool. If located in full sun and fairly dry soil, they bloom without a hitch in June. And blooms are born all summer long if spent blossoms are religiously — and promptly — deadheaded.
Although the flowers look lovely in a mason jar, they are even nicer in a proper vase. You can also employ them in this old-fashioned way: Poke a blossom through the button-hole of your shirt pocket. In a bygone era, unmarried gentlemen did this very thing to indicate — and presumably to women — their availability for courtship. Hence centauria’s popular nickname, “Bachelor’s Button.”
If I were you, I’d winter-sow a packet of Centaurea cyanis seeds today. In summer you need only to gaze upon these heaven-hued flowers to experience a sense of serenity.
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Seeds I’d Winter-Sow: The Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)
Blue Flowers Make a Garden Feel Peaceful
Making a (free) Greenhouse for Winter-Sowing Projects
My Favorite Seed-Suppliers…& Yours