Wednesday, February 14, 2018


A bee's eye view...

Poppies were singled out for this post for a couple of reasons. 
Poppies are unique in that some are annual and others are perennial. 
And... poppies are high on my list of favorite flowers. 

In 1984, I was dazzled by a single poppy plant. It was grown by my joyful little boy in a paper cup at his day care. This was not only my introduction to poppies, but also my first Mother's Day gift! 

Several of the flowers from that poppy plant were included in my wedding bouquet that same summer.

We saved lots of seeds and have continued growing these poppies each summer ever after!

If you look into it, it can get complicated when trying to categorize poppies. 
I will try to keep it simple!

The poppies you saw in the above photos are annual (meaning that the plant grows and flowers for one season only). 

The scientific name of the above poppies is:
Papaver rhoeas 'shirley poppies'
TERRITORIAL SEED COMPANY and ED HUME SEEDS are sold locally and both offer 'shirley poppies.'

Some shirley poppies grow with very few petals encircling the immature seed pods. They are referred to as single.
Here we see a flower comprised of only 4 large petals:

If the flower has a few more petals, 
it is described as semi-double:

If there are lots of petals, 
it is described as fully double:

The petals of some Shirley poppies are all the same color:

Others are bi-colored:

Some are picotee. This means the petal is edged with a different color or shade.

There are several other groupings of Papaver rhoeas besides 'Shirley.' 

Papaver rhoeas 'Angels Choir' 
I first purchased 'Angels Choir' poppy seeds from the THOMPSON & MORGAN seed catalog. They were described as poppies having darker shades. 
Oh, My! Such extraordinary flowers! 
Have a look at a few:

Papaver rhoeas 'Falling in Love'
'Falling in Love' poppy seeds have been available from the TERRITORIAL SEED COMPANY. They are described as a mix of picotees and bicolors in rose, salmon and coral shades.
This bouquet makes me wish that our poppies were in bloom for Valentines Day:

Papaver somniferum

Papaver somniferum is another annual poppy.
Also known as the bread seed poppy, most single-petalled Papaver somniferum grow in various shades of purple, pink and white. These poppies are sometimes referred to as blue bread seed poppies. This is not because the flower is blue, but because the seeds, when mature, are shades of blue. 

I ordered Hungarian bread seed poppies long, long ago. They have voluntarily grown here, there and everywhere in our gardens ever since. It is a purple/lavender shade. 

An unusually talented local gardener, Lori Adams, shared some pods with me from a pink Papaver somniferum. The flower is lovely. 

The mature pods are comparatively huge and loaded with seeds!

Papaver somniferum 'Paeoniflorum'
It was impossible not to notice the deep red peony like flowers in my co-worker's summer garden. The petals were fully double. Connie Ellingson did not hesitate to share some mature pods with me so that I could grow some of these gorgeous flowers myself. Red peony poppies have been growing in our gardens for nearly 40 years now! I refer to them as 'Ellingson' poppies.

A few years after starting red peony poppies, my thoughtful niece, Joannah, sent me a mature seed pod of the same plant with pink flowers. It came from her mother's (Annie DeCollibus) amazing garden in western Washington.
I refer to them as 'Joannah' poppies. 

Soon after, I found seeds for peony poppies in shades of coral


and purple!

According to the information supplied by Thompson & Morgan Seed Company: 
"All poppies are poisonous. However, the seeds produced from Papaver somniferum and Papaver somniferum 'Paeoniflorum' can be eaten and are used for adding extra flavor, crunch and bite to breads and cakes. The seeds of other poppy species are not edible."

Mature poppy seed pods develop small openings, like salt and pepper shakers, on the top of the pods. 

The tiny poppy seeds shake and spill out self-seeding onto surrounding soil. I have seen birds and other little critters eat the seeds. The seeds will likely travel in the critters' droppings. 
If you want to eliminate the possibility of having poppy seeds sprout in and around your gardens, it would be wise to remove the seed pods as soon as you see the openings at the top of the pods. Either way, don't forget to pick some mature seed pods to provide yourself and friends with a stash of poppy seeds to grow the next year. Simply pick mature seed pods with six inches or so of stem still attached. Pick the pods as soon as they mature because, in our climate, the pods often mold from too much rain. Besides seeing the openings at the top of the pods, hearing seeds rattle when you shake the pod is also a good indication that it is mature. 
I place the pods with stems in a jar or vase with a newspaper or something underneath to catch stray seeds. Separate and label the pods by variety and color. Let them totally dry indoors. Shake the dried seeds into a ziplock or small container with tight lid. Label and store in a cool, dark, dry location. 

Plant poppy seeds anytime in spring. Sprinkle seeds sparingly where you would like plants to grow. Poppies seem to love our cool climate. Plant them in full or partially sunny locations and they will thrive. 
The soil should be loose and fertile for healthy growth. Rain or watering will press the seeds into the soil well enough. Do not cover with soil. Poppy seed germination is improved with light. 
Germination usually takes 14 to 21 days. It is easy to identify the poppy plant sprouts once you have grown them a few seasons. When sprouts are two or three inches tall, thin the plants to about 12 inches apart. Unfortunately, transplanting is not recommended. The roots are sensitive. Transplants often fail or grow miserably.

Starting poppy seeds in pots is also an option. Anytime in March or later works fine. I like to use 4 inch pots. Fill the pots with potting or seed starting soil. Carefully sprinkle just a few seeds in each pot. If growing a variety of poppies, label them.

Sprinkle with water until the soil is totally wet. Cover the tray of plants with clear plastic. Not air tight. You want a little air circulation so as not to promote mold. Place the tray of plants in a well lit, warm location. I use my south facing window. I place a heat mat underneath the tray of plants if it feels too cool in that location.

Once the poppy seeds sprout, remove the cover and the heat mat. When the plant has grown an inch or two, I remove all but the two healthiest looking plants. After another inch or two of growth, I remove the smaller of the two plants. When the remaining plant is 6 inches or more, I water and then carefully remove the plant with the cube of soil from the pot, taking care not to disturb the soil. Best to have holes dug in the ground with soil loosened in advance for each plant. Plant the poppies about 12 inches or more apart.

It is difficult, but, once the plant has grown and is budding, I often pinch off the first ten or so largest buds on each plant. This causes the roots and plant to grow larger and stronger. Once you allow the buds to blossom, it continues to strengthen the plant if you dead-head. This simply means you pop off some of the seed pods after the petals fall rather than let the plant use its energy to ripen all of the seed pods.  The flowers on the plant don't bloom all at once. They bloom continuously for a month or more.

A bunch of poppies on their own make a spectacular bouquet.

Or add a splash of color to bouquets of mixed garden mints and flowers.

In order to prevent the petals from falling off soon after cutting poppies, it is necessary to burn the end of each poppy stem before placing it into a vase of water. I use a lighter or the flame on a burner of my kitchen propane stovetop.

Dried poppy seed pods are a welcome addition to a dried flower bouquet.

Perennial poppies are such a delight! 
Along with other perennials, they faithfully return each spring. 
Well, most of them.

In general, perennials have few requirements.

  • Add a little fertilizer annually early in the season. 
  • Divide the root mass every few years.
  • Fence or stake the plant if necessary.

Because perennial poppies are not alike in every way, I will feature the varieties we grow in our gardens individually.

Papaver meconopsis 'betonicifolia'
This much admired blue poppy is also known as 'Himalayan Blue Poppy.' 
It does very, very well anywhere in our gardens.

When our Himalayan Poppies revive each spring, there are often quite a few new, tiny plants growing nearby... apparently sprouted from seeds dropped the previous fall.

I remembered reading that these poppies will alter in color depending on the pH (acidity level) of the soil. One spring I sweetened the soil surrounding a plant just out of curiosity. I used a handful of lime. Sure enough, raising the pH of the soil (or sweetening) caused the petals to lighten!

The Himalayan poppy plant does not seem to be bothered by transplant. As soon as they appear in spring, I dig down plenty deep under the plant. When relocated or shared with another gardener, they have done well. That's how I first added Himalayan Poppies to our gardens. A most welcome addition!

Papaver meconopsis 'Cambrica'
Is it because this poppy has the same name as our family
that it goes berserk in our gardens? 
This poppy is known as the Welsh Poppy.

A friend shared some of these seeds with me many years ago. 
I sprinkled them around the border of a few gardens.
Not only did the Welsh Poppy form deep, massive roots, but it dropped and scattered zillions of the tiniest seeds imaginable! It seemed that each and every seed germinated the next year! These poppies came up everywhere and have been impossible to eliminate entirely. 
Perhaps this is a problem unique to our gardens. 
But just to be on the safe side, I do not recommend growing Welsh Poppies due to the invasiveness we have experienced with this species.

Papaver meconopsis 'Grandis'
And grand it is!

 Take a close look.

Meconopsis grandis is breathtaking considering its' size and color.

You might be wondering if this adorable girl is unusually short... or is this poppy species unusually tall?   Both!!!

Papaver meconopsis 'Grandis' is not happy just anywhere in our gardens. Although our gardens have good drainage, these poppies do not like to sit in our unusually wet ground year round. Rainforest. I had started about two dozen plants from seed. After a few years of a soggy existence, most of these poppy plants died off in our gardens. 
Just when I was about to give up on this brilliant blue beauty, I happened to visit Debbie Urias, a gifted, local gardener. Her house was surrounded with bright, beautiful flowers fluttering in the breeze. Her flowers matched her personality.
She had Papaver meconopsis 'Grandis' growing full and healthy in a huge barrel! Debbie had discovered that keeping these beauties up out of the wet ground did wonders not only for their growth each summer, but also for their reappearance each spring. 

So, I dug up our few remaining giant blue poppies and transplanted them into huge pots. I made certain that there was good drainage and fertile soil. 
They lived happily ever after. Thank you so much, Debbie!

Papaver orientale 'Brilliant'

This was the first perennial poppy in our gardens. I spotted it growing near an old abandoned house in early July many years ago. At the end of the season, I dug it up and gave it a try in one of our gardens. It did very well. 
Pretty easy to see who was a willing photo bomber back in those days!

This perennial poppy, Papaver orientale 'Brilliant', does not spread, but rather stays and grows in a clump. It divides and transplants happily in fall or spring.

Papaver orientale 'Olympia'
The Olympia poppy is extraordinary! 

  • clear, bright orange  
  • multi-petalled, fully double perennial
  • the first poppy of the season flowering early in June
  • after flowering, ragged foliage is easily and completely removed
  • roots remain and spread nicely 
  • even a small piece of root will grow into a plant

Papaver orientale 'Princess Victoria'
A pale pink perennial poppy!

Also blooming each year in July, this poppy shares the same traits as the Papaver orientale 'Brilliant'.

                      HAPPY POPPIES!

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