Let's face it, poppies are really pretty! Many gardeners would consider poppies to be among the most beloved plants in their gardens - the poppy is certainly one of the prettiest and most popular wildflowers. The flowers can be bold and striking and yet at the same time supremely delicate, with their satiny, paper-thin petals. Poppies come in colours that range from deepest crimson and brightest orange through to pretty, soft peach, pink, rose and cream. Flowers may be single, double or semi-double.
Poppies are stunning sown in drifts and are deservedly popular in wildflower meadows. They also combine beautifully with other flowers in a border garden.The poppy family (Papaveraceae) includes many plants in a number of genera. but most poppy species are in the genus Papaver.
Possibly the most well-known poppy is Papaver rhoeas, also known as the Corn Poppy, Field Poppy or Flanders poppy. This is the the single red poppy that carpeted fields in Flanders during World War I. It became famous when John McCrae, a Canadian soldier, wrote a poem in 1915 commemorating the soldiers who had died:
"In Flanders Fields, the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row...."
Since then the Flanders poppy has been used as a symbol commemorating the fallen of many wars.
Papaver rhoeas is also the botanical name for the Shirley poppy. In the late 1800s, the Reverend W. Wilkes (vicar of Shirley, England), discovered a new form of the annual poppy growing in his garden. The flower had a narrow edge of white around each petal. He sowed the seeds from that plant and selected from subsequent generations until he had a group of poppies with single, tissue-paper-like petals and colours ranging from pale pink to lilac and mauve as well as red. These became known as Shirley poppies.
The Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule), likes cooler temperatures and makes a pretty cut flower. Poppies can be short-lived in a vase. If you would like them to last longer, plunge the cut ends of the stalks into hot water, or sear with a flame to stop the sap flowing out.
The botanical name for the California poppy is Eschscholzia californica. Not easy to say but very easy on the eye! These pretty wildflowers from North America can be seen in their natural environment in Antelope Valley California. A visit to see these wildflower fields is definitely on my bucket list - it looks like an amazing place to visit! The California poppy is just as pretty in the garden - Barb and Gerard had a wonderful display of Poppy California Jelly Beans last year - it was so pretty that most of the staff followed suit and grew them too!
Another favourite flower is the peony poppy. These poppies are known as Papaver paeoniflorum. The frilly flowers display hundreds of papery petals - paeoniflorum means "many-petalled". They make a wonderful display in the garden - we grew some of these at home last year and they were just gorgeous.
Sowing & GrowingPoppies grow easily from seed, and you may find that last year's poppies have self-sown and that you have poppies "popping up" again in following years. They are not invasive and the seedlings are easy to pull up if they are in unwanted places, or you can move them if you do it when the seedlings are still very small. Larger plants dislike having their root system disturbed. Poppies grow in almost any kind of soil providing it has good drainage. Digging some compost into the soil will help with drainage.
Poppies are frost tolerant and germinate best in cool weather and soil. Poppy seeds are tiny - the main difficulty is making sure you are not sowing your seeds too thickly. Mixing the seed with sand may help with spacing the seed out. Sow your poppy seed directly early in Spring. In warm areas, you can sow poppies in Autumn - seedlings will begin to grow early the following spring. Poppies bloom profusely under cool growing conditions. Select a site in full sun, but if you are growing poppies in a warm climate, you might find that your plants do best with some protective shade at midday.
Do not bury the seeds - most poppies germinate best with light - cover the seeds with just a very thin layer of fine soil. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy, until seeds germinate. Thin your seedlings to about 15cm apart when they are about 3cm tall. Progressive sowings will allow you to enjoy having poppies flowering in your garden for an extended season and deadheading spent flowers will keep your poppies in bloom for longer. Taller varieties may need support against wind - use a stake or twig supports, or support them by growing sturdier border plants around them to keep them upright.
We have some absolutely delightful new poppies for our new catalogue this year and thought we would give you a sneak preview, although it's a bit of a tease as you will have to wait until the catalogue comes out in mid July before you can order them...
Poppy Black Swan
This year we are introducing a new Peony Poppy into our range. It is called Black Swan, and it is a striking dark burgundy/near-black peony frilled with numerous finely cut petals. This is definitely a poppy that we're looking forward to growing.
Poppy Bridal Silk
This gorgeous corn poppy is just stunning, with delicate white/cream flowers....this poppy is something special and definitely suits its name. Imagine a drift of white poppies in your garden, or mix them with other coloured poppies for a lovely display!
This is a stunning corn poppy, with its bright scarlet red colour and big black ladybird spots! I grew these in my garden last year and they were so cheerful and flowered for such a long time....I'll definitely grow them again! Actually, they will probably pop up on their own since I let them go to seed - the self-sown seedlings will be most welcome!
So how about some drifts of poppies in your garden next year? Just imagine relaxing in the sun, watching the wind moving through your poppy field!