Agrostemma, Bachelor Buttons, and Calendula……..oh my!

     If you would like an easy project for yourself or to share with your kids, then these three varieties are made for ease.  They can be direct seeded easily, or started in soil blocks or six packs. They bloom early, so can be sucession planted, meaning you can seed them again after the first planted group has finished.

Agrostemma is also called Corn cockle.  It is a “once and done” flower, meaning that once you cut its sprays, it will not produce additional stems.  This is where sucession planting comes in handy. It is an elegant flower that likes cool conditions, and its colors are white and purple.  All parts of this flower are poisonous, so it is probably a poor idea to expose a toddler or young child to it, if they will tend to put some part in their mouth.  Why you ask, would anyone plant a flower that is poisonous? Many flowers are poisonous! They are not meant to be eaten! (Well, some are edible, but for the sake of arguement, lets not eat our flowers….that is where vegetables excel!  So using common sense, these and similar flowers can be enjoyed. Cut each stem as a spray, just as one flower is starting to open. The others will follow suit.  They are lovely in a vase mixed with other flowers, but stand alone beautifully as well. They will last about 7 days in a vase if you remember to change the water.  

Bachelor buttons are the quinticential cottage garden flower, likely to remind you of your grandmother.  The colors of the annual, common variety are pink, blue, and white. This year I will be planting a perennial variety that is yellow.  I have decided to treat it as an annual however, meaning I will pull it after a while and plant other flowers inits place. Keeping up with weeds in perennial beds is a time consuming task generally, but when you are essentially a one man show, even harder.  This way I can avoid this additionaltask, as there are always so many to do on a farm. Both varieties of bachelor buttons are easy and quick to start from seed, or direct seed, and will quickly grow to be 2 ½ to even 3 feet tall. You can start them in early spring even when frosts are possible.  They can handle the cool temps easily. They are best cut just as soon as you can see color on a bud. They will then open in the vase. You can cut them when they are fully open as in this photo, but likely won’t last as long as if cut earlier. Bachelor buttons are one of those flowers, like cosmos, that should be cut to enjoy, or deadheaded.  Deadheading refers to cutting off spent blooms. This allows the plant to continue to produce more buds and flowers. If you fail to cut stems for the vase, or fail to deadhead, the plant thinks it is time to set seed, and will stop producing flowers. After all, the purpose of flowers, and other plants is to attract insects, provide them with nectar and pollen, and then die by going to seed, and start the cycle all over again.  So when you regularly cut your Bachelor buttons (and cosmos) they will produce a plethora of blooms.

Calendula are interesting flowers in that their seed is a very funky looking one.

Many seeds are shaped for easy dispersal on the wind (they have a light fluffy component) that can land a distance.  I can only guess that this seed is meant to drop down close to the mother plant. When starting this annual (lasts one season only, not like a perennial which will come up sucessive seasons), cover the seed with soil.  Remember that all seeds have their own built in dormancy mechanisms. By that I mean that some seed needs to be covered to break dormancy and sprout, some require light, some require a period of cold or warmth. Most seed packets have instructions onhow to break dormancy on their packets.  If not, information is usually available online. Johnny’s Seeds usually has good reliable germinationi structions. Calendula is easy, just cover their funky selves and let them do their own thing with some added light and warmth, or direct seed them outside, covering lightly. They come in shades of yellow, rust, and apricot, growing about 1 ½-2 feet tall. Each small mound of flowers makes several stems for cutting.  When cutting Calendula (and most flowers) cut just above a leaf set and close to the ground. By cutting close to the ground (just above two leaf sets, it encourages the plant to produce additional long stems from the site of your cut. Calendula’s are pretty cherry, and their daisey like flower is reminiscent of gerberas…without the guady colors. Their biggest drawback is that the stem is rather sticky, and I find that annoying.  This year, I am planting a apricot colored variety. I will direct seed some, and have already started some in seed trays. I have found they are not easy to place in a soil block given their shape.

For a lovely spring and early summer cutting garden try one or all three of these easy to grow varieties.

Photo of calendula seed and calendula in bloom.

Happy Gardening!

Carrie Kling, Master Gardener

Windy Acres Horticulture, a flower farm growing specialty cut flowers for CSA, events, and florists.