Grow picture perfect poppies
Poppies embody a certain stylish simplicity, and look almost as good in bud as when in full bloom. They have the kind of easy informality that lends itself to lots of different landscaping uses such as en masse in garden beds or in pots.
In ancient times, poppies were associated with successful crop cultivation. Demeter, Greek goddess of the harvest, is often depicted in paintings holding poppies and sheaves of wheat, and is said to have grown poppies among the wheat.
One of the English country names for the poppy used to be cheese bowl.
This is because there is a small bowl in the base of the flowerhead that is filled with seeds set in latex, which has a similar appearance to cheese.
Poppies aren’t hard to grow, but a few basic preparations before planting will help them perform at their best.
Soil must be free draining. Dig in manure or compost before planting.
Position poppies in a sunny spot with protection from wind.
Feed fortnightly with a soluble plant food for flowers.
Mulch around the plants with lucerne hay or sugarcane.
Water poppy plants regularly to keep the soil damp.
As some species of poppies were similar in colour to the scarlet tunics worn as army uniforms in earlier times, they were called soldiers.
This name became ironic when the red Flanders poppies sprang up in northern France on the battlefields in World War 1.
The seeds can remain dormant for years until the soil is disturbed, so when the trenches were dug, they germinated and bloomed.
It is the Flanders poppy that is worn on Remembrance Day on 11 November.
The Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule) is a short-lived perennial that is usually treated as an annual.
This plant forms a basal clump of greyish-green leaves and the flowers appear on tall stems to brighten up winter and spring gardens.
Iceland poppies can be grown from seed, or you can plant seedlings. Space the plants about 200mm apart and the foliage will eventually cover the soil.
Avoid cultivating around the plants, as root damage will weaken them and may cause the flower stems to twist.
Pinch out the early buds until the plants have formed good-sized clumps, and remove finished blooms to prolong the flowering period.
COLOURS: Apricot, yellow, gold, rose pink, white and cream.
Bred from the Flanders poppy in the 1880s by the Reverend William Wilks of Shirley, England, spring-flowering Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas cvs) are annuals and available in either single or double flowers.
GROW Shirley poppies like cool and temperate climates, and fairly dry soil.
Sow seeds in autumn directly where the plants are to grow, sprinkle lightly with seed-raising mix and keep damp. The seedlings will emerge in about 10 days. You can also buy seedlings.
COLOURS: White, cream, salmon and shades of pink, red and violet.
TIP: Check out Mr. Forthergill’s Shirley Double Mixed poppy seeds.
The perennial Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) will perform for many years. It has large bowl-shaped flowers borne on hairy 800-900mm high stems.
The spring blooms can grow to 100mm in diameter and often feature a dark section at the base of each petal. It has coarse, pinnate leaves and some cultivars have frilled foliage.
GROW: Oriental poppies are hardy and once they are established in the right position are fairly tenacious, so give them a spot where they can grow permanently.
They prefer a cool climate and are grown from seeds sown in autumn or crowns planted in winter. Remove old foliage as it fades to keep the crowns healthy and exposed to sunlight.
These poppies are dormant from autumn until early winter.
Divide old clumps every 2-3 years during autumn, then replant.
COLOURS: Red, bright orange, pink, salmon and white.
Visitors to northern France in spring or early summer are captivated by the fields of Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeas).
But they cause problems for farmers and as a result of modern herbicides are now being seen less.
Also called corn and field poppy, this annual grows up to 600mm.
The large flowers are 50-100mm in diameter and the stems are usually covered with coarse hairs.
GROW: Flanders poppies like cool and temperate climates, and fairly dry soil.
Sow seeds in autumn directly where the plants are to grow. Cover the seeds with a light sprinkling of seed-raising mix and keep damp.
The seedlings will appear in about 10 days. You can also buy seedlings.
COLOUR: Scarlet, with certain varieties featuring black centres.