Garden Clippings for June 10, 2023

Perhaps their beauty lies in the fact they are so short-lived.

Poppy flowers don’t last much longer than cut flowers you would put in a vase on the kitchen table.  But when in bloom, they put on a show that is both impressive and memorable.

For Canadians, and for all countries affected, Poppies are a symbol of remembrance of the First World War.  Poppies were the only thing of beauty that survived the fields pummeled by shelling and trampling.  It was with this picture in mind that Canadian Doctor John McRae was compelled to write the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’.

Shortly after the war, Poppies were recreated in paper, and sold to raise money to support the families of those who died in war.  In Canada, we’ve chosen to pin Poppies on our lapels in November, coinciding with Remembrance Day.

In the flower garden, Poppies are easy to grow.  Plant them to achieve a surprising pop of colour in a mixed perennial border.  Their brightly coloured blooms appear on wiry tallish stems every June.

If you like a neat and tidy garden, Poppies are not a good choice.  For the first year or two after planting, Poppies will obediently grow where you’ve planted them, but in subsequent years they will become more random, growing wherever their seeds may have dropped.  If growing conditions are good, they may eventually pop up everywhere in the informal perennial garden.

When growing Poppies, it is best to allow them to grow as surprises here and there throughout the garden.  Like Bleeding Hearts, in summer, Poppies go dormant and their leaves turn yellow and shrivel up.

Poppies are not fussy about growing conditions and will grow without much effort in poor soil.  Give them a sandy or well drained location and they will do just fine.  This spring, my neighbour’s Poppies are more impressive than ever.  Her soil is sandy, well drained, and rainfall to date has been far less than normal.

Poppies can be planted by seed or from small pots bought at a nursery.  In a pot or container, Poppies are not impressive, so can easily be overlooked in favour of more attractive plants.  Unlike most perennials, Poppies are not keen on transplanting, so splitting and sharing with other gardening friends will likely prove disappointing.

Starting Poppies by seed is just as easy as buying transplants.  Look for seeds on the seed rack in early spring or buy seeds directly from seed suppliers or catalogues.  Alternatively, harvest seeds from seed pods in fall before they pop open on their own.  Sow seeds directly in the garden in spring, in a warm, sunny location.  Don’t plant the seeds deep, because they want light in order to germinate.

The Poppies that most closely resemble the ones John McRae wrote about in Ypres, France, are Oriental Poppies (Papaver ‘orientale’) with their bright red petals and black centres.  Poppies are available in many colours including pink or purple, commemorating animals that have died in war, and white, symbolizing peace without violence.