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The Year of the Poppy

...part one
by Jodi DeLong
by Jodi DeLong


Writing about plants and gardening is just one part of Jodi¹s professional writing business. She¹s been a garden columnist for the Atlantic Co-operator for over five years, and last year was invited to do a biweekly column in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Canada¹s oldest independent daily newspaper. In addition, she writes regular garden features for Saltscapes magazine, Manitoba Co-operator, Grainews, Rural Delivery, and has also had various feature articles in Canadian Gardening, Cottage Life, Complete Canadian Gardener, Aquascapes Lifestyles, and East Coast Gardener. Jodi sits on the National Board of Directors for PWAC, the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, as Atlantic Regional Director, and is also a member of the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. When she¹s not writing, she¹s gardening, reading about gardening, photographing gardens, thinking about gardening, or ignoring the housework.

September 30, 2003

As a garden writer, I receive all sorts of interesting mailings through professional affiliations, book publishers, and a compulsion for seed and plant catalogues. Back in the complete depth of a truly cranky winter, a mailout came from the National Garden Bureau, informing me that 2003 was the year of the Poppy. I laughed at this. In my gardens, every year is the year of the poppy.

My love affair with poppies began the first spring we moved to our property. In late April, brilliant, lush green growth began appearing in some of the already existing garden areas of the yard. We watched the rapid growth with great interest, and were enchanted when the first flower burst open, brilliant orange with the texture and look of silken tissue paper. This was an Icelandic poppy, (see sidebar below), and subsequent blooms of yellow, cream, apricot and white went on throughout the summer.

As the season stretched into June, poppy surprises of different species began popping up in different parts of the yard. In a rock garden, a flood of corn and shirley poppies put on a performance of dazzling colour, as hundreds, perhaps thousands of seeds germinated from previous plantings. Two different colours of lettuce poppies showed up in massive displays: blood red, double blooms on four foot high plants, and deep wine doubles that looked almost black. A perennial poppy I¹d moved from our previous place settled in and put on a brilliant display of scarlet, reminiscent of a flamenco dancer¹s costume. And new plantings of both annual and perennial poppies settled in and thrived. We have poppies from early spring until frost finally wraps up the display.

Poppies are easy to rewardingly easy to grow, and usually, once you have them, you will have them for good--with plenty to share with your gardening friends. They will grow best in full sun, but will also do well in partial shade, and they will grow in just about any type of soil--even the gravel of a driveway! They tolerate dry spells quite well, making them stellar performers in summers of erratic rainfall.

The secret to success with poppies is to plant them where you want them to grow, and not attempt to transplant them, as they resent being disturbed. The exception to this is growing perennial poppies from seed or as young plants purchased from a garden centre, often in peat pots. You can transplant young plants out into your garden after they have reached a size of several inches, but before they get too large. Many mail-order companies offer perennial poppies in the fall, and these plants will settle in and often bloom the following spring, although usually it takes a full year¹s growing for them to really start to perform.

When seeding poppies into your garden, it¹s a good idea to mix the tiny seed with sand, and then sprinkle the mixture where you want the plants to grow. Raking the soil lightly after seeding is all the cover poppies will need to start them growing. Even seeding this way, you will probably have to thin the poppy seedlings after they start to grow, as poppies germinate readily. I can¹t stress enough the importance of thinning your seedlings; otherwise, plants will be too crowded and won¹t bloom nearly as well or with as large blossoms. It¹s hard to pull up a living plant of a desirous type, but trust me on this. I¹ve been a reluctant thinner of poppies at times, only to have literally thousands of plants, some no more than a few inches tall and with flowers the size of pennies. The bigger plants put on a better show.

To keep your poppies blooming longer and looking great, deadhead most of the flower heads after they are spent. You can of course let a few heads go to seed, and either collect the seed to share with others or plant in another part of your garden, or let the seeds fall where they may. We have what I call ³free range² or volunteer poppies growing in many interesting places in our yard, and they are always welcome. Poppies have good disease tolerance and seldom are troubled by any pests, but if they are too crowded will sometimes develop stem rot at the soil line. Spacing and good air circulation is the best prevention for this problem.

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