Cornflower for ground cover

Cornflower 'Trailing Blue Carpet'

In recent years we’ve seem some unexpected developments in hardy annuals that we all thought were always more or less the same. We’ve seen variegated alyssum raised from cuttings and we’ve seen low and spreading, winter-flowering calendulas for containers. And now we have a trailing cornflower.

I grew ‘Trailing Blue Carpet’ in my trial garden this summer, treated as a hardy annual and sown in April on the corner of a low raised bed. It was very pretty and spread across the edge to handily mask my not-so-very-efficient carpentry in joining the vertical boards at the corner.

It’s unique amongst cornflowers in spreading out horizontally and staying low over the soil, just 7-10cm high. The plants flowered from June until I finally pulled them out in September, I’m sure regular dead heading was a factor in keeping them going. Snipping with the kitchen scissors or a sharp pair of secateurs was easy.

The flowers were small, as cornflowers go, standing up just above the leaves and opening in deep cobalt blue before taking on paler, purplish tones as they matured. And “trailing” is perhaps not quite the right word: “spreading” is better, “carpet” certainly applies as, when the shoots reached the edge of the bed, they just kept going horizontally until the weight of the stems lowered the shoots. Not quite the thing for a hanging basket, more like annual ground cover.

This is not a new variety of the cornflower we’ve all been growing for years, Centaurea cyanus. I think it’s probably a different species, from the Mediterranean or eastern Europe, but with over two hundred species growing across Europe and two hundred more in Asia I’m hard pressed to suggest which one it might be. A form of Centaurea depressa, from Iran, perhaps?

I thought it was very pretty and when the plant breeders have got to work crossing it with the more familiar types perhaps we’ll end up with larger flowers and more colours. In the meantime, why not give ‘Trailing Blue Carpet’ cornflower a try at the front of a sunny border?

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