What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘poppy’? Is it the beautiful swathes of red field poppies (Papaver rhoeas) that germinated in the churned-up battlegrounds of Flanders and became such a symbol of remembrance and hope? Or perhaps it’s the powder-puff flowers of opium poppies (Papaver somniferum) with their wonderful seedheads so beloved of flower-arrangers?
We three all grow various poppies in our gardens and are here to let you know which ones thrive with us in our different locations, and for once Caroline holds the trump card…..
My first pick are the oriental poppies (Papaver orientalis) with their voluptuous tissue-paper blooms amongst the jagged leaves. It’s one of those tingly moments when you go out into the garden on a warm May morning and see their delicious crinkly flowers unfurling, splashing bright colour across the border.
The bumble bees go dizzy with the fun of crawling around the stamens inside. Understated they are not, but I am a simple sort of gal who revels in the jolly cottage-garden flowers and am happy to leave the oddities to others (Laura, mostly).
They like sunny, free-draining soil, so grow very happily in the chalky soil of my Eastbourne garden (if you have heavy clay soil, add a load of grit to it). Oriental poppies look frankly ghastly after they have flowered, but it’s okay to cut the WHOLE LOT, leaves and all to the ground – they don’t mind it one bit.
Californian poppies (Eschscholtzia californica) are part of the poppy family too, and if you want a plant for a starved bone-dry sunny situation, these are the ones to have! I have been growing them for decades in a narrow bed under the south-facing windows and I have never watered them – in fact, I have never given them any attention at all, beyond a little weeding and cutting back at the end of the summer. Some like it HOT, and these do!
And they flower their pretty socks off for weeks and weeks from May onwards. It’s hard to tell how perennial they are, they self-seed so happily. I have a feeling that Caroline might find it tricky to find the right spot for them though……….
Interesting, you see I find oriental poppies take ages to flower and while they wait for our Scottish sunshine (it’s a long wait) to open their flowers, they take up an annoyingly large amount of flower bed with their excessive foliage. Next, the issue of the slight flop particularly if they get drookit (Scottish word alert, you can probably guess its meaning). I don’t like plants that need staking, and definitely not floppy ones that collapse over their supports like a Saturday night in Newcastle.
However, never fear, in my opinion we do win out up here by being able to grow the poppy of all poppies – Meconopsis, the Himalayan blue poppy. Folks it’s worth moving to the Highlands with its acidic soil and cold/wet tendencies, just to be able to grow this little bit of euphoria on a sturdy, non-stake-requiring stem.
Meconopsis have a reputation for being short-lived but expert grower Donald Davidson from Abriachan Nursery advised me to lift the plant after flowering and replant it on a bed of well-rotted manure….that way it’ll go on flowering for decades – I’m so going to do this. Laura bought me three of these beauties last year – a gift so generous I’m thinking of forgiving her for all the spiders dropped down the back my shirt 60 odd years ago.
So, not for the first time in my life I’m sandwiched between the extremes of my two sisters, Elaine in her overheated Eastbourne courtyard, and Caroline wrestling the elements somewhere north of Inverness ie. between a rock and a hard place.
In an effort to placate them both I am firstly bringing to the table the Welsh poppy, Papaver cambrica. This lights up damp shady corners with its dainty lemon flowers, and should as happy in the Highlands climate as it is in the Welsh. The usual complaint about this delicate little stunner is that, once settled, it pops up all over the place (see our feature picture this week) but frankly Caroline should be grateful for this – she needs all the help she can get!
Then, for Elaine’s hot cauldron of a garden I propose the diametric opposite, the Spanish poppy, Papaver rupifragum, which is about the same size as its Welsh cousin but is orange, semi-double and thrives in hot dry conditions where it will self seed at will.
For myself, I am sprinkling seeds of the opium poppy Papaver somniferum (courtesy of the RHS Seed Distribution Scheme – thank you!) all over the garden this spring in the hope that they will pop up at random in entrancing locations, and that some of them will turn out to possess the sultry colours of the peerless ‘Lauren’s Grape’.
NB Louise has confronted her worst fear to bring us a picture of her Plant of the Month, click on the box below to find out what it is.
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