Sunday 25 September 2016

In bloom this week: Get the blues

The fascinating cornflower

Leonie Cornelius

Published 24/05/2015 | 02:30

Sapphire Blue Cornflower
Sapphire Blue Cornflower

The hue of this week's chosen plant is so recognisable that a colour has been named after it. Cornflower blue is a stunning shade of medium to light blue and was one of the favourite colours of the Dutch painter Vermeer. The flower that inspired the name Cornflower blue is the Centaurea, a fascinating plant with many uses and stories.

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Cornflowers are a common wildflower that are originally native to the Near East but have naturalised in many European, Scandinavian and North American regions. The common cornflower, Centaurea cyanus, is an annual plant which can be grown as an ornamental plant in gardens. It is widely used in florists' bouquets and is also grown in many other colours including pink, white and lavender and striking shades such as black.

Cornflowers have been used for centuries to create a deep blue dye and you can even make a homemade food dye out of them as they are edible. The taste of the pretty common cornflower is a very delicate sweet spicy mix that goes well in salads for both taste and visual appeal. The Centaurea cynus is also used as an addition to some tea blends such as fine Earl Grey teas and the petals can be picked and added to salads, the colour creating a tasty visual feast. As a herbal remedy the cornflower is used by herbalists to treat eye ailments.

The incredible striking blue variety of this flower that's pictured above is called Centaurea montana and is available from Homeland.ie. It is a relative of the common cornflower but is evergreen and has even more striking petals. I grow this plant in my own garden and the first time I saw it I fell in love. The thin, well spaced petals of striking colour seem to hover around the plant in delicate wings, allowing light to come through the petals. It is a fascinating plant to study.

Cornflowers have many historical references, one of which tells of the story of Queen Louise of Prussia and her children fleeing from Napoleon's forces. It is said that she hid her children in a field of cornflowers and kept them quiet by making flower wreaths from the cornflower. The colour was closely associated with Prussia, whose military uniform was dyed in a colour now called Prussian blue.

Cornflowers were used together with other plant leaves and berries to make an incredibly ornate natural burial wreath for Pharaoh Tutankhamun. These are beautiful to look at and incredibly well preserved. In later folklore this flower was worn by young men who were in love and it was said that if the flower faded then the man's love was not returned. In Victorian England they got the name 'Bachelor's Buttons' as young women wore them to signify that they were single.

leonie loves…

Secret gardens of Sligo is lovely idea where private garden owners open their gardens to the public during some days in the summer months. All donations go to charity and it's a wonderful opportunity to see some amazing private gardens.

For more information, visit secretgardensofsligo.com

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