Because I was at a flower show at the weekend it would hardly be credible if I had come back without buying any plants. Of course I bought quite a few but my star buy is a perennial cornflower. Centaurea montana is a tough, European native that has been a feature of British and Irish gardens for centuries. Forming clumps of ‘rabbit-ear’ greyish green leaves, softly silky in texture, it can spread a little too fast for some but the large, blue flowers are glorious in late spring and sometimes a few later flowers are produced, especially if you cut the clump back in mid summer when the whole plant can look a bit tatty. The main problem with the plant is the way it can get mildew in summer but it never really worries the plant, just us. Again, cut the old foliage off and the new shoots will probably be healthier. I have also read that adding lime to the soil will help reduce mildew which seems unlikely at first but something similar happens with bearded iris. Although they do not ‘need’ alkaline soils I am convinced that when they are grown in alkaline soils (pH above 7) they are less troubled by fungal leaf spots.
As well as the ordinary blue species there are variations with dark purple, white and mauve flowers and I keep meaning to add them to the garden but whenever I see some for sale I find something that catches my eye and the poor centaureas always get left behind. But not this time! Although only in bud, I decided that a white centaurea was good enough to merit spending my money and now two ‘Lady Flora Hastings’ are planted in the garden. There is another white form but this one has larger, frillier flowers. The centre of the ‘flower’ is touched with purple.
Not only is Centaurea montana a good garden plant, it is also good for cutting and the flower stems reach up to 40cm high.
Happy in most soils, sun or part shade and completely hardy this is a plant that deserves a place in any garden and perhaps I need to collect more now.