1. Joyous and carefree as the halcyon summer days can be, zinnias bedazzle us with their unabashed brilliance. They look as if a child had gone unsupervised with a box of 1000 Crayola crayons, coloring with singular doggedness each flower. Zinnias are a fitting preclude before….. (Zappy Zinnias)
2. Each year happens the same, the weather gets warmer and before we know it, we are barraged by this festival of blooms called springtime. It seems there is barely enough time to enjoy one flower display before the next one is vying for our attention, screaming out our name to be looked at and admired. Or, we can see this as the moment you can push the boundaries of bloom time…. (Pushing Bloom Boundaries)
3. Poppies are best cut early in the morning when the bud begins to reveal some color. They then should be plunged into… (Prolonging Cut Poppies)
4. Don’t forget to take notes, it is important to document your successes and failures including ideas you might want to improve upon for next year in the garden, such as… (Noting Notes)
5. Geranium [Rozanne] = ‘Gerwat’ may be ubiquitous, dethroning ‘Johnson’s Blue’, but it doesn’t preclude it from being…. (Blue and Orange Deux)
Engrossed in the activities of summer gardening, there are many things I notice as I look around, stake those plants, collect seed from that plant, water the glasshouse, water the pots, deadhead, harvest seed from that plant, drink some water, move those plants… Happy to be so busy, but not so happy when I finally do get to collect those seeds, only to see that the plant has already dispersed them, a missed opportunity. As I get older as a gardener, experience has taught me some tricks, and no longer miss the opportunity of collecting seed for next years plants. In Germany, I have seen fine netting placed to catch seed that might otherwise get lost in the wind, one approach. As a student at Great Dixter, we used to collect seed before it was ready, placing them on the windowsills to dry and ripen to save for the following year. Often, Poppies are removed from the border before the seed heads open and I place them on a tray or in a bag, which when left for a week or two, will catch all the spilling seed, which are then labeled in a container. Small plates are all over the windowsill now, filled with hollyhock, digitalis and verbascum seed, ripening for next year. No more missed opportunities for the next generation. – James
A garden is a fantasy land for children, running and hiding amongst all the foliage and color, screaming and laughing, playing til exhaustion like any child should. Another fun way to show and include them in the magic and creativity that can come from plants is something as simple as taking interesting seed heads that can be used as stamps. By taking a number of different dried flower heads for size, we used dried Poppy heads, specifically Papaver commutatum and P. sommniferum, and then mixed them with watercolors (used thickly). The designs can be used for a number of things. Cards were made using a play on flower motifs, from garden, to cut bouquet, to vase which were soon sent off by mail to friends. An activity like this is one more way to engage children in the beauty of the garden. May induce fits of giggles…. – James
Late May to early June is usually a jubilant time for me – the late spring growth has rapidly matured, the evenings stretch longer, and the vitality of foliage, still pristine and relatively unmarred, awakens the eyes jaded from winter. It is too the time of poppies -even the name ‘Poppy’ itself has a playful, pop-up art connotation, a concept that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And the color synonymous with poppies, a bright red unadulterated by blues or yellows, jolts the senses in its unabashed brilliance.
In the chalk fields of the Norfolk Broad a few years ago, I witnessed hundreds of Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeas), dabbed like the red spots of a pointillist painting. At Chanticleer, parts of the Pond and Gravel Gardens become a sea of red, as long as winter has been merciful enough to let any seed or seedlings survive (this past winter was a brutal one, reducing the sea to more of a trickle). The poppy seems a symbol of beauty at its fullest and most fragile – a rainstorm easily send the curtain down on the flowers – that belittles its resilient profundity. Each flower dwindles to a capsule that expels hundreds of black seeds, a fraction of which secures the plant’s future. I’m often taken by surprise at the number of seedlings appearing in the garden the following spring. A seedling then quickly mushrooms into a fat clump transmogrifying into an airy framework of wiry stems and flowers with heat. After a few weeks, the entire plant becomes a desiccated skeleton having fulfilled its purpose. We pull it out, scattering its seeds wide in hopes of seeing more next year.
The Flanders or corn poppy has become a floral remembrance of WWI and WII battlefields – it has been said that poppies emerge thicker where bloodshed was the heaviest. Farmers regard them as agricultural weeds, although modern farming practices have more or less obliterated them. These poppies are ‘relics’ of a cultural landscape in which organisms had evolved in sync with traditional principles of animal husbandry, delayed tilling, and hedgerows.
Horticulturists took among themselves to select and breed for paler colors, which collectively became known as Shirley poppies. Shirley poppies will often revert to the standard red species if not carefully edited for rogue seedlings and separated physically. Their flowers have a silvery shimmer, a pearlescent quality made surreal during cloudy days.
The Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) seems to be a hypersexualized version of the Flanders poppies – its petals have become larger, fuller, and deeply crinkled like the finest chine crepe, its stamens and anthers sultrier like mascara-lined eyes, and its colors ‘less’ pure in red, washing into pinks and creams. Even its basal rosettes are bullies, making the Oriental poppy less of a partner to tango with than the Flanders poppies, which pirouette gracefully and spontaneously amidst other plants. In large gardens they look stunning with bearded irises, peonies, and other traditional cottage garden perennials.
Ever since the Wicked Witch of the West sent Dorothy and her entourage into a soporific slumber with a field of poppies, the opium poppy has had a less salubrious reputation as a source of narcotics, including its derived product heroin. It irreversibly altered history when China was forced to concede Hong Kong to Great Britain in the aftermath of the Opium Wars. With darkness comes benevolence – the poppy seeds beloved in breads and cakes and poppyseed oil are from the opium poppy.
My heart belongs to the ladybird poppy (Papaver commutatum), which possesses the same saturated red of the Flanders poppy, but stamped with the trademark black splotches.Without these black splotches, the flowers look rather ordinary and merely attractive. At Great Dixter this poppy flowers with the magenta Gladiolus communis ssp. byzantinus at Great Dixter – it is a daring combination the late Christopher Lloyd loved in its irreverent cheekiness. Unfortunately the ladybird poppy is not a reliable self-seeder. The best way to hedge against no-shows next year is to start them from seed under cover, prick the seedlings individually into plugs, and plant as soon as possible when the roots have filled out. Autumn sowing is best as it goes for annual poppies. As you know, the effort is always worthwhile and I often dream of combinations with the ladybird poppy – the bright blues of Centaurea cyanus ‘Blue Ball’, the whites of Orlaya grandiflora, or orange geums. A field of them would be magical, evoking what John Keats wrote in Endymion: “Through the dancing poppies stole A breeze most softly lulling to my soul.”
Geranium [Rozanne] = ‘Gerwat’ may be ubiquitous, dethroning ‘Johnson’s Blue’, but it doesn’t preclude it from being a good garden plant whose sprawling growth and free flowering can led to endless pairings. ‘Jelly Beans’ California poppies explode at the same level as ‘Rozanne’ as both plants are lax in habit. The two colors, blue and orange, work well since they are complementary. Unfortunately the poppies are annual, and need to be resown since any self-sown seedlings may revert back to the straight species.
Whether you’re seeking seeds to gift or preserve for perpetuity, midsummer is an excellent time to note any ripening seed capsules ready for harvesting. It’s often too easy to be caught unaware when the seed capsules have dispersed their contents, leaving none to collect as insurance shall the seedlings fail to germinate the following spring. Endless rain can cause the seed crop to fail as mold can quickly destroy seed viability. The easiest, if not laziest method of harvesting involves pulling out the dried remains (stems, roots, and all) and placing them upside-down in brown paper bags. The bags should be placed someplace dry and cool, out of reach from rodents. In most cases, the seed capsules will naturally dehisce, spilling their contents into the bag with minimal fuss and cleaning.
Now is a good time (early July for those in the mid-Atlantic US region and mid to late July for those in the cooler northern areas) to harvest the following:
One year, I purchased two flats of Iceland poppy seedlings (Papaver nudicaule) from a garden center and planted them in the vegetable garden. In the rich soil, the seedlings romped away and became very free-flowering as the days lengthened. We could not cut enough and it was wonderful to gather generous bouquets of poppies that could have cost a fortune from florists. The colors may be somewhat retro to some people, but I find them lively and modern. Here they look brilliant against the Lichenstein-inspired painting originally used for Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade.
Poppies are best cut early in the morning when the bud begins to reveal some color. They then should be plunged into cold water immediately and kept cool and away from direct light. To prolong the life of cut poppies, trim to the desired stem length and expose the cut ends to an open flame. The flame will naturally seal in the cut ends and prevent the stems from drooping and wilting.