Of all the old-fashioned flowers that welcome the summer season, poppies are the
most brilliant—they glow like stained glass when the sun shines behind them in
early morning or late afternoon. Although their silky petals look delicate
nodding on their wispy stems, poppies are both easy to grow and surprisingly
Cultivated since ancient times for their beautiful blossoms, edible seeds or as
medicine, poppies appear in mythology, poetry, and paintings, symbolizing
everything from fertility and decadence to blood and memory. Recent breeding
developments have further enlarged the range of their form and fantastic
diversity of colors.
Renee's Garden Poppies
While many people love the wild
form of cheerful yellow-orange California poppies, Renee's Garden offers this
species in a palette of multicolored shades, including vivid tropical colors and
lovely pastel shades. Shirley poppies, also called the Corn poppies, are mostly
single and red in the wild, now come in doubles of pink, salmon, white, and even
lilac. Not nearly enough gardeners have experienced the giant peony-like and
fringed balls ranging from white to dark maroon in the French Flounce mixture,
or the ethereal pale pink/lilac of Hungarian Breadseed poppies or the vivid hues
of Heirloom Pepperbox.
best in moderately rich, well-drained soil, and can either be sown in fall or
early spring, depending on your climate. In cold winter areas, where the ground
freezes hard, plant seeds in spring as soon as the soil can be worked; in mild
winter areas, you can make two sowings, the first in late September to early
November, and the second in early spring.
Sow seeds directly in the ground rather than in pots, since they form taproots
and don’t react well to being moved. Scatter them thinly and press them lightly
into the soil with the back of a rake but do not cover them, since they need
some light to germinate well. Water with a gentle mist spray so that the tiny
seeds don’t wash away.
Since slugs and snails can consume your entire stand of seedlings in a
maddeningly short time, apply snail bait around the poppy patch after sowing.
It's very important to thin seedlings to a final spacing of 8-10” for tall
poppies, 6-10”for CA poppies. Properly thinned seedlings will have room to form
beautiful big plants with many more flowers, while crowded plants will stay
spindly and not produce as many blooms.
To enjoy poppies as cut flowers, snip the stems just when the buds are about to
burst open. For longer vase life, seal the stems by burning the cut stem ends
with a lighter before immersing them in water. California poppies and are
particularly well suited to cutting since they last longer in the vase than
other annual poppies.
Renee’s garden offers a growing selection of poppies, representing the most
reliable and beautiful of the modern and heirloom varieties available in the
Shirley or Corn Poppies, Papaver rhoeas:
Angel’s Choir: A
celebration of the entire range of genetic diversity within the Papaver rhoeas
species, Angel’s Choir contains fully double, semi-double and single flowers
with many bicolors. Not only do we see pastel pink, apricot, peach, cream,
salmon and rose, but also rare cooler colors such as dove-gray and lavender.
Heirloom Shirley Poppy: A mixture of semi-double and single pale pink, white,
rose pink, salmon, and scarlet, many with a white edge, it was introduced in
1880 by William Wilkes, an English vicar. On a walk near his home, he noticed a
poppy with a white edge, saved the seed, and carefully pulled out plain red ones
until he’d developed a range of pastel colors “with a wonderfully light, bright
tissue paper-like appearance”.
Legion of Honor Poppy: These are the wild red corn poppies, immortalized in
Canadian John McRae’s poem written during World War I: “In Flanders’ Fields the
poppies blow, between the crosses row on row”. The poppies that seeded
themselves profusely in the trenched fields of the Western Front became symbolic
of the blood of the many thousands of brave soldiers who died there and the
sadness of war. In England after WWI, a factory opened for the production of artificial red
poppies, which were worn in honor of the fallen troops on Poppy, or Remembrance
Sunday—a custom that continues today. It’s easy to see why poppies became so
beloved as a metaphor: their simple elegance lends dignity to the sacrifices of
Falling in Love: A joyful
mixture included both single and double blossoms, many with picotee edges in
shades of crimson, rose-red, white rimmed with red and an occasional peach.
Papaver somniferum varieties:
While the corn poppy represents memory, the opium poppy, or papaver somniferum
has a long history of use as a narcotic. Special varieties for opium and
morphine production contain an especially high percentage of alkaloids, but
gardeners have grown other ornamental, seed, and oil production varieties for
hundreds of years. Under U.S. law, it is illegal to grow any of the varieties
within this species; however, it is legal to sell the seeds and eat poppy seed
bagels or muffins. Since they are such beautiful garden flowers, Renee’s Garden
continues to offer the seeds of the following two varieties for sale, but if you
are concerned about possible legal consequences, grow papaver rhoeas varieties
French Flounce: These gigantic ruffled and fringed puffs remind me of the
swirling skirts of dancers at the 19th century Moulin Rouge. There are so many
surprises within this fully double mix of peony and carnation poppies. My
daughter and I grew them last year, and looked forward to going outside every
morning to witness the unfolding new forms that would magically appear. The
color range includes scarlet, pink, salmon, violet, purple and deep wine red. At
Renee’s Garden, we grew them in a bed with other old-fashioned annuals like
larkspur and cornflowers in a faraway spot behind the vegetable garden, but they
always attracted immediate attention.
Hungarian Breadseed poppy was developed for its large capsules, each containing
thousands of crunchy black seeds. Hungary and other Central European bakers are
famous for poppy seed cake, and poppy seed glazed yeasted breads. Even if you
decide not to eat the seeds, the pastel, lilac- pink flowers look like fairy
wings flying between perennials at the back of a border. When they dry, collect
the capsules and wind them into wreaths with dried herbs and everlasting
flowers. Be sure to leave some capsules on the plants to self-sow for next year.
Heirloom Pepperbox offers triple rewards: glorious flowers, handsome pods and
nutty-tasting seeds from the same ornamental plants. The 3 to 4 foot tall
gray-green plants send up nodding stems of large papery-textured blossoms in
rich purple, vivid red and pale lilac-pink, all with dark center blotches. After
the petals drop, the seed pods swell as the abundant blue-black seeds mature.
Harvest when dry, shake out the tasty seeds for cooking and baking and keep the
pods for beautiful decorations.
California Poppies, Eschscholzia californica
The classic California poppy whose fluted form and exuberant
golden-orange color truly celebrate spring. A perfect choice for hot and dry
areas, they'll grow easily without fuss all over the country. The silky, vivid
flowers shine above mounds of feathery foliage for weeks, covering the ground
with a cloak of bright flowers. Carefree and cheerful, these native orange
poppies are perfect to cover a neglected area or hard to cultivate slope or
plant in the garden for a memorable display of glowing color.
Renee made up this knockout color blend that features her favorites of the
wonderfully vivid newer California poppy shades. It really looks like a blazing
sunset with rich hues of deep red, carmine rose, vanilla, as well as ruffled
flame and tangerine bicolors. California poppies last longer in the garden than
other annual poppies, and readily self sow, and so you can have these carefree
flowers every season.
Plant this combination of mandarin red and cream California poppies at the base
of tropical-looking flowers or bulbs—or use it to light up the greens at the
edge of a vegetable garden.
This pretty and unusual California poppy color selection has silky, deep
rose-tinted blossoms that glow with iridescent color. For weeks in spring, the
paper-thin flowers float on slender stems above mounded plants with feathery
By careful reselection over numerous years, breeders have been able to isolate
this silky-soft, buttercream color in California poppies. The soft creamy
colored flowers nod the in the wind and shine for weeks above mounded plants,
contrasting handsomely with the blue-green foliage.
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