Secret of growing poppies

Phyl Boyce


Phyl Boyce

Secret of growing poppies

Scarlet was the only colour available up until the 1940’s when new varieties were introduced in a range of shapes and colours including bright pinks, pale pinks, salmon pinks and pure whites

Few hardy perennials have such magnificent flowers as the Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale). Clumps of big, bold red Oriental poppies are a vision that represents the arrival of summer sunshine.

It seems they grow more dazzling and more gorgeous each year. Perhaps they are grown in greater number of gardens and we see their brilliant colours everywhere or perhaps we have learned the secret of growing these delicate silken flowers.

Scarlet was the only colour available until the 1940’s when new varieties were introduced in a range of shapes and colours including bright pinks, pale pinks, salmon pinks and pure whites. Further developments in the 1980’s saw lilac and blue tones introduced.

The Oriental poppies bloom in June, growing 2-4 feet in height. Their sturdy stems, topped with fat buds, rise from a lush carpet of evergreen foliage. The buds open to reveal crumpled petals that delicately unfurl into a luxuriously cupped shaped flower. The flowers often measure 9-10 inches across. Some of them have a black blotch in the centre of the petals and all of them have a great number of purplish-black stamens in the heart of the cup.

The Iceland poppies (papaver nudicante) are smaller plants, growing about 12 inches in height. They are also favourites in the garden for their colours of white, lemon, yellow and orange, are beautifully crinkled and have a delicate fragrance.

They bloom all through the summer if the dead flowers are removed. Poppies make lovely cut flowers, but unless care is taken in cutting them, the petals will drop and they will not last long. The flowers should be cut early in the morning when the buds are tight, allowing them to open in the water. They will last for several days. The giant Oriental poppies may be cut either early in the morning or in the evening, just as the buds are about to open.

Pink and white poppies are the easiest to mix into the garden setting. For a soft combination, try them with silver-grey leaf plants such as Artemisia. Both the Oriental and Iceland poppies are splendid plants for the herbaceous border.

Oriental poppies will grow in any open, sunny position in good soil. After they finish flowering the leaves begin to die down, they should be left alone for the roots seem to enjoy a thorough baking from the sun.

In September the roots will show signs of growth, at which time plants may be safely transplanted. Oriental poppies should be mulched in the winter. Plants will grow in the same position for a number of years, if the need to be divided, autumn is the best time to do it. Plants may be grown from seed, collected when the pods are ripe, the seeds are sown thinly and placed in a cold frame over winter. When the new shoots appear in spring, pot them up and plant out when they have attained a good size. The Iceland poppies will self seed very easily. They are extremely hardy and will grow in any soil.

Meconopsis forms another family of poppies that come from Tibet and China. They are deciduous perennial plants which can be short-lived. In summer they produce pendant to horizontal, saucer shaped bright blue flowers with yellow stamens.

The flowers are produced towards at the top of the stems which can be 4 feet tall. Meconopsis likes a humus rich neutral to slightly acid soil, moist, but well drained. The plant will rot in the winter if the soil becomes too wet. The plant thrives in partial shade with shelter from cold drying winds. Meconopsis betonicifolia (Himalayan poppy) produces blue flowers. Meconopsis x sheldonii ‘Slieve Donard’ is another beautiful blue flowering poppy that was produced in the 1960’s at Slieve Donard Nursery in Co. Down.

Meconopsis cambrica (Welsh Poppy) produces cup shaped yellow flowers from spring to autumn.

This plant has a long tap root, is very hardy and will thrive almost anywhere in the garden, except in very dry soils, ideal for a wild flower garden. The only problem with this plant is that it can self seed itself around the garden.