Magazine article Sunset

Poppy Fever

Magazine article Sunset

Poppy Fever

Article excerpt

Choose from a world of colorful beauties

For a quick trip halfway around the globe, consider the common names assigned to a few poppies: California, Flanders, Himalayan, Iceland, Oriental, and Welsh. Some are annual, some are perennial, and a few fall somewhere in between. But they all bear sensuous flowers with rich colors and delicate textures. With so many kinds to choose from, how do you decide which to grow? Here's a guide to the best garden poppies.

One- or two-year wonders

All the poppies in this group can live longer than one season in mild climates and ideal conditions, but they quickly die if they get too cold, hot, or dry. Most people treat them as annuals or biennials, removing plants when flowering declines. These poppies do best in full sun. Most take marginal soil but grow bigger and bear better flowers if grown in good soil and fed occasionally.

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). In the 1800s, brilliant fields of native California poppies were so dense that sailors could spot them from the coast 30 miles away. The poppies' natural range runs from the Columbia River in the Northwest to Mexico, but they can be grown in all Sunset climate zones (from the Western Garden Book) except coastal Hawaii.

The most common color of the 2-inch-wide flowers is saffron orange, but yellows and bicolors are common, and breeders have added red, red-orange, rose, pink, cream, and white to the color mix, along with double and fringed blossoms.

PLANTING: Sow seeds in autumn; provide irrigation if rain doesn't fall. Seedlings will emerge in winter in areas where the ground doesn't freeze, in early spring where it does freeze.

Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule). Despite its name, this poppy's genetic roots are found in subarctic Asia. In mild parts of California, it's a classic, cool-season bedding plant. In the Pacific Northwest, it's a spring flower. In Alaska and parts of the Rockies, it's a cool-summer flower.

The brightly colored 3-inch-wide flowers have petals that look like crinkled tissue paper. Blooms come in yellow, orange, salmon, rose, pink, cream, and white.

PLANTING: In mild-winter areas, sow seeds or set out seedlings in fall; in cold-winter areas, sow seeds after the ground thaws in early spring.

Flanders field poppy (P. rhoeas). During World War I, trench-digging soldiers and ground-ripping artillery disturbed the soil of Flanders fields, stimulating a bumper crop of the bloodred poppies now synonymous with Veterans Day. Some of the best single-flowered forms are called Shirley poppies because they were selected by the English Vicar of Shirley in the late 1800s.

The 3-foot plants bear 2-inch or wider flowers with single or double petals. Red is the dominant color, but selections also come in shades of blue, orange, pink, and white.

PLANTING: Sow seeds in fall or early spring, or set out seedlings as soon as they are available in spring.

Varieties that come back for years

In general, perennial poppies do better in cool climates.

Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia, M. x sheldonii). In the Himalayas, this poppy is native to elevations of 10,000 to 13,000 feet. Similar climatic conditions in Alaska, the Northwest, and the Rockies make it possible for gardeners in those areas to grow this rare sky blue flower.

Given filtered shade, organically rich acidic soil, and moisture during summer, this poppy can grow 5 or 6 feet tall, but more often the 3- to 4-inch-wide flowers appear on 2- to 3-foot plants. …

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