There is something special about poppies.
Just go ahead and grow some. Then, study them closely. By doing so, you will experience the joy and excitement of gardening and, in the process, discover how poppies are a personification of gardeners themselves.
There are at least seven different poppy species any Valley gardener can grow: the Iceland poppy, California poppy, Shirley poppy, Mexican tulip poppy, Oriental poppy, peony poppy, and Matilija poppy.
Let’s start with the Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule), a long-lasting winter and spring bloomer, the ultimate bedding plant for March. Iceland poppy flowers are fitting representatives of their group. Their wide-brimmed, cup-runneth-over flowers in pink, orange and yellow are turned skyward in a gesture of receptivity and thanksgiving. This is what gardening is all about – making yourself a vessel to recognize, receive and finally be thankful for the beauty and abundance all around you.
Then there is the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). No flower can compete with its warming orange presence. There is something ironic about the appearance of an orange blanket of flowers in the spring, since orange is fixed in our minds as a fall color, associated with ripening pumpkins and the fiery autumn foliage of deciduous trees. Instead, California poppies are a gentle reminder of the hot days that lie ahead.
California poppies are more resilient than they might seem. And when faded flowers are cut back, they will may bloom again in late spring or summer.
But gardeners are never content; nothing brings them more pleasure than trying something new, and so 10 different kinds of California poppies have been developed, including red, white, apricot, yellow, ruffled and dwarf varieties. You can find their seeds at www.seedman.com. The ability of these and other poppies to spread, giving easily of themselves through self-propagation, reveals yet another aspect of the gardener’s personality.
The corn or Flanders Field poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is often seen on the lapels of people collecting for war veterans. This tradition started during World War I with the publication of poems that depicted the red poppies growing on the battlefields and between the soldiers’ graves in Flanders, Belgium, as if they were the blood of fallen heroes.
Shirley poppies, bred from corn poppies outside Shirley, England, in the 1880s, come up in red, pink, rose, lilac, salmon and white.
The Mexican tulip poppy (Hunnemannia fumariifolia) is a spellbinding yellow version of the California poppy, except that the Mexican tulip poppy is borne on taller stems and has larger flowers. The Mexican tulip or goldencup poppy has finely cut blue-green foliage, clear butter-yellow flowers and multiplies from its own seeds. These drop in place, year after year, eventually naturalizing drier portions of the garden. This poppy demands well-drained soil and full sun, but once those conditions have been met, it blooms with reckless abandon. If stems are cut before flower buds have opened, blooms will look good in a vase for a full week.
The Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) is the giant of the bunch, with flowers reaching 6 inches in diameter.
The greatest success I have had with them has been in sandy soil and without competition from adjacent plants. As a rule, poppies seem to thrive most spectacularly with their own kind, and while they may grow lots of foliage, they produce far fewer flowers in mixed plantings. Peony poppies (Papaver paeoniflorum) have dense peony or rose-like blooms. They grow effortlessly from seed and are close relatives of opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Colors are in the pink to red -to purple range.The Matilija or fried egg poppy (Romneya coulteri) is an amorphous perennial that is somewhat difficult to establish. But once it gets going, it will spread without conscience throughout the garden. Its gray- green stems grow up to 8 feet in height and its flowers, resembling jumbo fried eggs, reach 9 inches in diameter.
Tip of the Week: The seeds of most poppies are narcotic to one degree or another. If you have to take a drug test, do not eat a poppy-seed pastry beforehand. Poppy seeds contain test-detectable levels of alkaloids such as morphine and codeine.