Friday, 7 June 2013



A Scottish garden without some form of poppy is never complete. From the very popular Oriental poppy to the annual poppies sown from seed they somehow always find a spot to appear in, and if you let the weeds get a hold the corn poppy or Welsh poppy is sure to pop up.
Poppies have an ability to spread into everyone’s garden in one form or another. In my early training days my granny proudly showed me her two favourite flowers. One was an Oriental poppy with large scarlet heads and the other a smaller golden yellow flower which came up every year with a nice show of small blooms swaying in the breeze. Later on with more knowledge I realised this was the common Welsh poppy, a bonny weed by the name of Meconopsis cambrica. We also frequently see our soft red corn poppy Papaver rhoeas, another common garden weed, but never the less still very attractive. I have also had several poppy types blown into my garden and quite happy to set up a wee colony that expands every year. These have turned out to be the Californian Poppy and the Opium Poppy. Several years ago I got a packet of seeds of Poppy Ladybird, which were fine at the time. However the flowers dropped seeds which have lain dormant for about four years then reappeared to start flowering all over again.
Californian and Shirley poppies however can be a bit invasive unless you keep them controlled. One City Road allotment plot was very famous for his poppies which had run riot all over the place and in great danger of spreading into all the neighbouring plots till action was taken. However they were very attractive so I managed to get a few good photos of the show before a dose of glyphosate weedkiller sorted them out. This gave me a great image for a painting when I did a dozen allotment scene paintings. Poppy heads produce large quantities of seed which will all grow given half a chance, so only save enough of the best for your own needs then dead head the rest immediately after flowering, unless you have the space to establish an ever expanding colony.

Perennial poppies

The Californian tree poppy, Romneya coulteri can grow up to six feet tall producing large showy white flowers with a yellow centre of conspicuous stamens. The flowers are set off against the warm grey green deeply cut foliage. Being native to California it needs a hot dry location and can be quite a challenge this far north.
Oriental poppies come from Turkey and Iran, so also prefer a warm spot to show off their huge dazzling scarlet and other coloured flowers. They are very easy to grow and flower in great profusion every year. The foliage will die down after flowering in late summer.
Propagate by division in autumn, but don’t leave any old roots around as these grow very rapidly into big plants at the first opportunity.
Himalayan Blue poppy known as Meconopsis betonicifolia is a short lived perennial lasting a few years. It forms clumps which may die out in the centre but usually some buds around the rosette will grow into the next plant. It has intense blue flowers in May and June and prefers a woodland fringe aspect in dappled shade and moist soil rich in humus. I propagate mine from seed sown in seed trays late summer or early autumn then left outdoors to overwinter. It needs a cold frosty spell before it germinates in spring. Keep the soil moist at all times and protect it from slugs, mice and birds.

Annual poppies

Iceland poppies are biennials, flowering in early spring and summer from a sowing made the previous year. They are absolutely glorious with large pastel shade flowers blowing in the breeze. They grow about a foot tall.
Californian poppies, Opium poppy, poppy Ladybird and Shirley poppies are all annuals, sown in early spring outdoors on a fine seedbed and either left alone or thinned if very thick. Keep them weeded and watered early on to build up a strong plant. They do not need a fertile soil, or any fertiliser, so long as the topsoil is friable to assist good germination. They can all drop seed after flowering which will grow again the following year, so dead head the plants after flowering if necessary.

Plant of the week

Phlox subulata (moss phlox) is an easy to grow rock garden plant with pink flowers. It makes a perfect ground cover plant a few inches tall as it is an evergreen perennial flowering profusely in late spring every year. For best effects plant it in full sun in well drained soil. It loves spreading over walls and rocks in the rock garden. It is easy to propagate from cuttings taken in spring.


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