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Growing the Largest, Most Beautiful Poppy, More Ideas for Planting Beneath a Maple, and Gardening in Raised Beds.
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

September 22, 2002

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Himalayan poppy (Papaver bracteatum), and Warren and Marsha Reese sharing the garden responsibilities on their third-floor Winnipeg apartment balcony.
Photos courtesy T&M Seedsmen, and Abilities magazine.

In reviewing what I had written about over the past year, I noted I had very little about newer seed cultivars, other than the annual introductions by All-America Selections. I also noted that I had written nothing about one of my favourite seed catalogues, that of Thompson & Morgan. In fact, I noted that I did not have a copy of their 2002 issue of the “world’s largest illustrated seed catalogue.”

That lead me to call to Susan Jelinek, horticulturist at T&M in New Jersey. She was very informative and in addition to information on the Himalayan poppy (Papaver bracteatum), which follows, she brought me up to date on the company itself.

For well over a decade the T&M company in the U.S. that sent the catalogue to Canadian gardeners (though not the seeds supplied from racks in Canadian stores) was managed by Bruce Sangster. His brother, Keith operated and managed the original U.K.-based company. (There all kinds of stories about how the two of them did or didn’t get along!)

Apparently with the retirement of the Sangsters, the U.S.-based company was bought by International Garden Products in 1999. Now, just in June this year, the U.S. company has been bought back by the U.K. company so it is now all one company. They now operate under the slightly revised name of Thompson & Morgan Seeds-men.

My main reason for contacting Susan at T&M was to talk with her about a poppy that I’ve never grown but thought I’d like to tell you about--Himalayan poppy. As it happened she has never grown it either, but has discussed it with many gardeners who have.

Himalayan poppy is actually the largest poppy--even larger than the huge Oriental ones. It grows easily from seed, and may be started at various times of the year, depending on conditions and your wishes. For example, it can be sown successfully in the fall even outdoors where you want it to grow the following year. However, it should not be sown any more than six weeks before hard frost, as the desire is that the seed germinate only when the frost leaves the soil the following spring. With our irregular winters (no frost in the ground last year even in late December), that is rather hard to predict.

Another time to germinate this poppy is in early spring, either by sowing it where it is to grow, or sowing it in peat blocks indoors about six to eight weeks before the last frost, when they can be transplanted outdoors. They apparently germinate well indoors, but Susan told me it’s important to transplant the seedlings to four-inch pots once they have three or four true leaves. They also need to be hardened off gradually for a week or so before planting them in the garden in early spring.

What’s so special about the Himalayan poppy? Well, I’ve already mentioned that it has the largest flowers of any poppy--often up to 25 cm (10”) in diameter! It resembles the Oriental poppy but the flowers are up to twice as large; it has a conspicuous crown of powdery black stamens; and it has stronger stems that resist the wind. During the first year this poppy produces a beautiful crown of fern-like leaves. The plants are extremely hardy, go dormant in winter and flower each spring, usually in late May or early June. The huge flowers open out flat, are borne erect on poker-straight stems 1.2-1.5 m (4-5’) high. Some plants in some locations may repeat-flower in the autumn.

As the crimson flowers (with black petal markings) unfold, they are richly textured, like crepe paper, and have a satin-like shimmering sheen. Each year the plants grow heavier, producing up to 50 flowers or more per plant, and they are easily divided. One gardener advised that the iridescent clumps are especially beautiful when contrasted with blue and yellow irises.

Himalayan poppies prefer full sun, but sheltered locations; with humus-rich fertile soils, and don’t like to dry out completely, which means watering or irrigation is needed during dry periods.

If you’ve never had the T&M Seedsmen catalogue, you should request a (free) copy from New Jersey. Just call toll-free 1-800-274-7333, or contact them on the Internet at:

My comments last week on plants for use under maple trees drew a number of interesting responses from across the country. For example, Brenda Morrison in Nova Scotia (zone 5) said, “I have a shade garden surrounded on three sides by towering maples. I have had great success with periwinkle (Vinca minor) on the slope directly below one of the largest trees. I grow many varieties of Hosta, as well. In the darkest corner I have Aruncus, Soloman's seal and Epimedium. I planted lily-of-the-valley because it may be invasive. Believe me, under maples nothing is invasive!”

From Ancaster Ontario, Helen MacPherson wrote: “We have a huge old maple in our front garden that we have under-planted with ivy, Pachysandra, sweet woodruff (Asperula odorata) and fleeceflower (Persicaria). We also have several ordinary green and white Hosta growing quite well. Admittedly the woodruff has suffered a bit with the relentless heat and drought but everything else is flourishing. We grow ginger and Epimedium elsewhere in our garden and love them as well.”

This week too I have an interesting letter from Carol Hagerman. Here it is: “I am currently doing some volunteer work for a group of six young men, ages 17 to 23, who are in wheelchairs. We would like to construct a raised vegetable/flower bed. We would need advice on the best height and width for the construction so that our guys can reach and maintain the plants. Pressure treated wood is out of the question because of the possibility of arsenic leaching out into the soil. I was thinking of long and narrow rows (4' x 8' ?), with isles of about 4' so that the wheelchairs could pass through the rows. Also, do you think we need to put a layer of gravel in the bot-tom for drainage before we fill them with good garden soil? The base soil is very sandy. Can you make some recommendations for our project? We are on a very tight budget and the price of cedar is very expensive. Hope you can give us some suggestions. Thank you in advance.”

The width of the raised beds will obviously be dictated by how far the guys can reach from each aisle. The height is now likely a standard, and I would refer Carol to the magazine Abilities ( In the Spring 1999 issue, Sarah Yates wrote about Warren and Marsha Reese of Winnipeg (who are both confined to wheelchairs) and their third-floor balcony garden. The item also contained ten gardening tips for gardeners with disabilities. That article, and another one “Plants Can Heal” dealing with horticultural therapy are both in the archives/back issues section of the site. Unfortunately they do not mention the original dates of the items so you must search. Sarah Yates’ article title is: “Gardens of Delight—the pleasures of digging in the dirt”.

Marsha Reese wrote to me in June 1999, after requesting and receiving a copy of my book Gardening Off The Ground. She said she had seen it while watching my gardening hints on Canada’s Weather Network (Sarah mentions them in her article) but it took a year and a half to find it!

There is a message board section on the Website that is likely the place where Carol should pose her questions regarding the raised beds she wishes to build. I would comment that I agree with her observation of not using pressure-treated wood for beds in which vegetables are going to be grown. However, I would add that if it is known that some raised beds will only be used for flowers, those could certainly be built using the much more economical pressure-treated lumber. Either cedar or redwood would be the recommendations for raised planters where vegetables are to be planted. As regards whether a layer of gravel is needed at the base of the raised bed, I would say in Carol’s situation, definitely no. The loose sandy soil beneath should provide adequate drainage.

As an aside, I note on the Abilities magazine site at least two mentions of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind Fragrant Garden for the Blind, located at the national headquarters building on Bayview Avenue north of Eglinton Avenue in Toronto. That garden has a soft spot in my heart because it was the favourite project of the late Lois Wilson, garden writer (Chatelaine’s Gardening Book) and good friend. She was one of the main par-ties who made the project happen soon after its conception in the 1950s. She was still a leading member of the Garden Club of Toronto and proponent of the garden when it was re-done in the early 1980s (as I recall).

There had been rumours that because of the demise of the housing for the blind facility at the site (to be re-placed by a new building), the garden too would disappear. I am told that according to Catherine Herman, property manager at the CNIB, this is NOT the case. The garden will continue, although it may well not be accessible during the construction stage.

By Art C. Drysdale, 893 Shorewood Drive, Parksville, B.C. V9P 1S6.
Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He is renovating an old home and will build a new garden there. He is heard Saturdays from 8:05 to 10 AM, with a live radio broadcast on Toronto's powerful and clear, AM740 CHWO Primetime Radio.


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