‘Gardens are a form of autobiography.“ I read that comment a number of years ago, and it’s stuck with me like a cocklebur seed.
When we plant a garden, we’re revealing something about ourselves. For me, it’s my passion for old roses, hydrangeas and lilies. But as much as I love and appreciate the beauty of my garden in full flower, I’ve made plenty of mistakes and have a few regrets.
One that stands out is pulling out the scarlet Oriental poppies that once bloomed in my long backyard bed. I zealously yanked out one poppy after another over a period of several years to make room for new perennials. Then one year, I looked out over the early summer garden and … no scarlet.
This year I’m determined to bring back poppies, as least in one area of the garden. But not scarlet. I’m thinking pink (and other colors), in particular the heirloom poppy “Sallie’s Double Pink.”
To my eye, this gorgeous pink poppy with its layers of papery petals resembles a peony or heirloom rose. Fruition Seeds tells the story of the seeds arriving in America purportedly in the pocket of a Turkish immigrant. He offered his neighbor Sallie seeds from the “ebullient poppies” which she grew for years and passed on to her son, who also has grown them for years and passed some along to the seed company.
“Laurens Grape” is an annual poppy that produces a lovely purple flower that is 4 inches wide. “Ziar’s Breadseed Poppy,” originally from Slovakia, offers lavender and coral flowers and huge seed heads, while “Blue Moon” is white with purple brushstrokes. “Pepperbox” features bright pink flowers, and “Double Tangerine Gem” is a glowing shade of orange.
Poppy seeds can be sown in late fall or early spring when the ground is still cold. If the soil is too warm, seeds won’t germinate at a high rate. Loosen the soil, enrich with compost and scatter seeds on top as evenly as possible. Gently press seeds into the soil.
Plants bloom from late spring to early summer, an all-too-short season, and reseed easily. Oriental poppies have a tendency to revert to orange, so root cuttings or container-grown plants are preferred. Don’t disturb the roots when transplanting. Snipping off dried seed pods also will keep Orientals from reverting.
Oriental poppy foliage disappears, then returns in the fall and should be mulched over winter. Divide plants in early spring.