Last updated on March 4th, 2013
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:
It was on June 5, 1968, that I came home from school to discover my mother sobbing miserably. The source of her grief? She’d just learned that Robert F. Kennedy had been shot.
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
Great story about your mom.
I remember Bachelor's Buttons growing in meadows and fields when I was a kid, too. Sad that they've disappeared, along with the meadows and fields.
I'll put this on my list to winter sow in February.
Those are great looking flowers. Did you grow the ones in the picture? My family always had a hard time finding a blue flower to grow in upstate New York. I mill have to suggest these.
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
John – nice to meet you. Yes, all of the plants on this website were grown by me. The Centauria above were photographed in my Kitchen Garden.
Anne of Kinderhook says
As a child and still today, a favorite flower is the cornflower or Bachelor's Button as we called them. I love the deep blue shade but also have grown them in shades of pink, white, and lavender. We also had an abundance of these wonderful blossoms all summer. I remember being in a wedding where they were woven into floral crowns worn on our heads.
May I suggest that last year, I took Kevin's advice and seeded packets of cornflower seeds in milk containers and placed them outdoors in February. They sprouted early and bloomed beautifully in my garden all summer. I'm going to do this again. Thank you, Kevin, for such wonderful ideas.
Cary Bradley says
In honor of your mother, and mine, I will plant Bachelor’s Buttons today. What a precious story Kevin. I’ve planted BB before, and loved them, in my California front yard garden and they were wonderful, but I was not moved to plant them again until reading your story. Thank you. (Also thanks for sharing the story of their name’s origin. You really are a treasure!)
I gave each of my girls their choice from the Seed Saver’s Exchange catalog, and my 8 year old chose the Bachelor’s Buttons (a favorite from MY childhood, which she couldn’t possibly know.) It was with great delight that I took her outside today and had her peek into the milk jug she sowed last week. Sprouts!
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Cary – By planting BBs, you are doing a good service. The plants have all but lost their natural habitats.
Lanette – Welcome. And may I say that your 8-yr-old daughter has excellent taste? You must be in a warmer zone than me — here, the soil in my milk jugs is still frozen!
I also live in 5b and have had bachelor buttons in my garden for years. The first year I planted them, then for the next 4 years they planted themselves. I would just move them around. I started to cultivate around them and they are more scarce, but I know I can just throw them down and they’ll come back up.
Jewell Massey says
This year I used your milk jug method for winter sowing! Cannot believe how successful it was — especially amazed with BUTTERFLY WEED and HOLLYHOCKS! Thanks, I will be doing THIS one again!