photo: Centaurea cyanus Black Magic
2007-03-24. Bachelor Button/Cornflower. Austin, TX

March 29th, 2011
Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Magic’

This post was published originally on 2007-03-24 and updated with data for 2008 and 2011.
The seed packet from Botanical Interests gives the common name for Centaurea cyanus as bachelor button. For us southerners, bachelor buttons are Gomphrena globosa. Julie at the Human Flower Project recognized it immediately as a cornflower, even though it was not the blue once so commonly identifiable that it is found in a box of Crayola crayons. I was going to go into a rant wondering whether children today connected their crayon colors with real flowers. The truth is, I’ve never seen a living cornflower before I grew this one. And then I chose a selection which is not cornflower blue.

Why don’t I like more cheerful flowers? This cornflower is a deep, plummy purple, a funereal maroon that, in flower marketing, is referred to as black. Morticia Addams would like it–she wouldn’t even have to snip off the flower before creating her bouquet. The plant itself is about two feet high with silvery gray foliage. From a distance, the dark flowers look like furry black caterpillars attacking the plant.

The seed packet said that cornflowers were drought tolerant. However, I’m not sure that translates into heat-tolerant. As soon as the mercury touched 80 today, they drooped. Instructions say to plant them in early spring before the last frost…unless you live in the south, of course! We’re suppose to plant them in late summer or early fall.

I planted these on September 11, 2006 and they just bloomed this week (late March 2007), more than six months later. They sprouted quickly and I transplanted them into the meadow close to the yellow irises thinking that the purple and yellow would make a nice combination. The irises aren’t blooming yet. None of Austin’s mild winter freezes bothered them, not even the ice storm or the night we got down to 25 degrees. They sent up flower spikes about the same time the cilantro did but took a long time to form buds and even a longer time for the buds to open. Every day I looked, expecting to see them open, and every day the flowers remained a tight closed ball. Then I went to New York and when I came back they were blooming. Maybe a watched cornflower never opens.

Dateline: 2007-2008

2007-11-05.
Discovered some seeds left over from last year and planted them in the west border where I’m clearing out the bearded irises that rotted in this summer’s rains.

2007-12-04.
The cornflowers (I still want to call them bachelor buttons) are about three inches tall and have two sets of true leaves. They are being smothered by competing baby blue eyes, so I dig up the whole bed and replant only the bachelor buttons spacing them about 5 inches apart.

2007-12-20.
In the mid-70s today and tomorrow. Transplant more bachelor button seedlings. From one group by the agave, three groups: 10 in place, 10 by butterfly bush, and 8 behind maiden grass.

2008-03-21.
First flower. Even though I planted the bachelor buttons two months later than last year it seemed to make no difference. They bloomed in exactly the same week. I prefer to plant them later if I can because then I don’t have to water as much and besides, I’m always running behind.

I think I will always grow bachelor buttons now because they are so easy and economical, although they did not self-sow. Two years of flowers from a $1.79 packet of seeds is satisfying. The effect is less somber than last year mostly because I have allowed the cilantro to overrun the meadow like a wave of white foam.

Dateline: 2010-2011

2010-11-24.
Sow half a packet of new seeds. Botanical Interests. 1 gram @ $1.79. Unseasonably warm ahead of a predicted hard freeze. Today’s high: 82°F; low, 70°F.

2011-03-25.
First flower. I never managed to thin these bachelor buttons so the plants are crowded and short. This dry spring has encouraged an abundance of pink evening primroses behind them. This is one of those unplanned combinations that bring delight.

photo: Centaurea cyanus Black Magic
2011-03-29. Bachelor Button/Cornflower. Austin, TX

Zanthan Gardens
2011-03-24. Pink evening primroses insist it’s spring despite a poor showing of bluebonnets.

March 25th, 2011
Week 12: 3/19 – 3/25

Suddenly, the yard is plunged into shade. The morning sun stops shining through my bedroom window and plants that have grown all winter in the full sun, plants about to flower, are now in the shade. The cedar elms have leafed out and transformed the landscape. I’m not as fond as cedar elms as I once was, as they are the trees that tend to fall in high winds. But this week, they are gorgeous. They leaf out a chartreuse green that deepens to a bright green. The red oaks and live oaks are leafing out too. Only the pecans are still bare.

Dateline: 2011
Spring will not be ignored. It rushes into the garden whether or not I’m there, just not in the way I would have planned it. The pink evening primroses smother the path while the areas I consider my meadow are bare. I’m not blind to the lesson.

This is the week that something new opens every day. All of spring’s bounty comes just as the yard is plunged into shade. The weather continues dry and hot. The toads and mosquitoes have returned. Temperatures rise into the 80s and the larkspur, just sending up its flower stalks, droop. The Tulipa clusiana and the Muscari racemosum have also faded quickly in the heat. A whole year of anticipation…and then they whither as they open.

If you don’t look too closely the garden is filled with swathes of Easter basket colors: yellows (Engelmann daisy and Jerusalem sage and some snapdragons that have finally recovered from the freezes); pinks (pink evening primroses, pink bluebonnets, Indian hawthorn, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, ‘New Dawn’, ‘Blush Noisette’); white (bridal wreath spirea, cilantro); blues (bluebonnets, baby blue eyes, starch hyacinths) and purples (false dayflowers, Nierembergia gracilis, tradescantia, prairie verbena). There is also one jarring red, the St. Joseph’s lily.

So much needs to be done which will be left undone. Right now the garden is blooming on the strength of previous years. It really is a garden wild.

Dateline: 2008
This is the week I both look forward to and dread. On the one hand the garden finally looks like a garden. I take pleasure just walking around in it and frequently forget to do anything but just stare. On the other hand, the shade has descended which means the sun-loving flowers will soon turn sulky and I’ll soon be counting the days until fall.
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pink bluebonnet
2011-03-16. Second generation pink bluebonnets. Austin, TX

March 16th, 2011
GBBD 201103: March 2011

Carol at May Dreams Gardens invites us to tell her what’s blooming in our gardens on the 15th of each month.

March 2011

The paperwhites and kin got frozen out in February but the other classes of narcissus have had a great year. I planted 100 new ‘Ice Follies’ bulbs and they did not disappoint. Even some old clumps of ‘Ice Follies’ that haven’t bloomed in the last few years threw out a few flowers.

This week the daffodils turned center stage over to the irises. Unfortunately I wasn’t home during daylight hours so I missed getting a photo when they were at their best. The grape hyacinths hit their stride and the cherry laurel is loaded with flowers. The Texas mountain laurel is a making a good show, especially on the east side of tree where visitors can be surprised by the scent of grape soda as they walk down to Auditorium Shores for SXSW concerts.

Because of the drought, this has not been a good year for bluebonnets (especially when one contrasts it to 2010, the best year ever). My experimental stand of pink bluebonnets is very healthy only because planted them early and kept them watered. Self-sown bluebonnets are small and few in my meadow this year. The cilantro and arugula were both barely up before they bolted. The roses haven’t started yet. I think ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ will open her first buds tomorrow.

All the trees decided to leaf out today: cedar elm, oak, and Texas persimmon. I’ll be thankful for the shade in July but as long as the temperatures remain in the 70s, I wish the yard was sunny and the flowers had a chance to show their stuff.

bridal wreath spiraea
2011-03-16. Bridal wreath spiraea. Austin, TX

Complete List for March 15, 2011

  • Bridal Wreath spirea
  • Commelinantia anomala
  • Coriandrum sativum
  • Dianthus chinensis (a single flower)
  • henbit
  • Eruca sativa (arugula already bolted but the flowers are yellow not white)
  • Iris (unnamed blue)
  • Iris albicans
  • Leucojum aestivum (fading)
  • Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’
  • Lupinus texensis (both pink and blue)
  • Muscari neglectum/racemosum (full bloom)
  • Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ (one late flower)
  • Narcissus jonquilla ‘Trevithian’ (fading)
  • Narcissus triandrus ‘Hawera’ (one flower)
  • Nemophila insignis
  • Oxalis crassipes
  • Oxalis triangularis (purple)
  • Prunus caroliniana (Full Bloom)
  • Prunus mexicana (a handful of flowers on smallest tree)
  • rosemary
  • Solanum jasminoides (potato vine)
  • Sophora secundiflora (full bloom)
  • Tradescantia

photo: Narcissus jonquilla Trevithian
2011-03-07. Narcissus jonquilla ‘Trevithian’.

March 8th, 2011
Week 10: 3/5 – 3/11

Dateline: 2011
Cool nights but pleasant days in the 70s. Occasional showers. Windy every day except Sunday (3/6), the day of the Zilker Kite Festival. The cedar elms are threatening to leaf out.

The bluebonnets are opening. This is a poor year for bluebonnets and only the ones I hand sowed (pink and white) and the two giant oversummering ones are doing well. The Mexican plums faded almost as they opened. However, the breadseed poppies are sprouting strongly. I thin and transplant some ‘Lauren’s Grape’.

The ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils are fading but the ‘Trevithians’ are flowering well this year. They have the most lovely scent, although I have to put my nose right in them to smell it. No sign of the ‘Hawera’ which used to open so consistently this week.

About a dozen tomatoes sprouted but have yet to get their first leaves. I’m behind on tomatoes this year!

First Flower: Commelinantia anomala (3/5); Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ (3/6); Engelmann daisy (3/6); Nemophila insignis (3/9); Oxalis crassipes (3/9); Oxalis triangularis (3/9).
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