Jazz up your garden with oriental poppies
In my morning and evening walks, I’ve noticed multitudes of oriental poppies adding vivid splashes of color to many gardens and public parks. Here on Vancouver Island, beautiful gardens and talented gardeners abound. With our mild and wet climate, it’s almost impossible to not have a colorful gorgeous garden.
The poppies range from pure white with inky bases on the petals, to warm pinks and vivid reds. These huge blooms with their fluffy stamens surrounding a bold center don’t last too long, but each plant will show several blooms over a few weeks. Unlike smaller poppies, true oriental poppies are perennials. The plants expand in size over time, producing more flowers.
Origin of Oriental Poppies
Poppies are native to many areas, including Europe, Asia, Australia, North America and South Africa.
Oriental poppies were first introduced into France and Holland from eastern Turkey in the 19th century. The development of many of the cultivars we enjoy can be credited to Amos Perry of England. In 1906 he found a pink flowering poppy among his red ones. Later, he developed a white one.
Since then, gardeners and horticulturists have created varieties ranging in colors from white with eggplant-black blotches to true pinks and orange pinks to oranges and reds and deep maroons.
Poppy foliage is a rosette of hairy deep green leaves that are deeply cut and up to 25 cm (10 inches) in length. Majestic flower stems rise from the basal rosette of fern-like foliage, each with a fat fuzzy bud. The bud splits in half, and the crumpled petals appear. The striking blooms can measure up to 15 cm in diameter!
Each petal shows a dark basal blotch. The petals form a bowl around a central crown made up of a multitude of dark stamens surrounding a central oblong pistil. Atop the pistil is the round ribbed stigma. Once the plant is fertilized and the petals drop, the seed pods have a beauty all their own.
Growing Tips for Oriental Poppies
Oriental poppies grow best in ordinary soil that is kept slightly dry, and in full sun. If they are placed in a shady or semi-shady area, they become leggy and may die out. As the blooms drop their petals, clip them off to encourage new blossoming. Collect the ripened seed heads, or leave them to self-seed Left on the plant, they add interest to your winter garden. As the flowering season ceases, the foliage will die down until spring. Dead foliage should be removed so it doesn’t become a home for slugs.
Propagate these poppies from root cuttings or division in early spring or just after the flowering ceases. If divided in late summer, the new rootlings will have the autumn to grow roots and recover. Divide the roots into 10cm lengths and insert the cuttings into sandy soil. Dig a deep hole, as the plants have a long taproot. Space the new plants at least 30 cm (1 foot) apart. Mulch around them with organic compost, and water well at first. Once established, they require less water.
Plant poppy seeds in the fall in containers and leave them in a cool place. They require frost to germinate. Transplant them to your garden beds when they grow to 4 inches in size. Oriental poppies can also be grown from commercial seed mixtures. The resulting seedlings may vary in color from plant to plant, which will add more variety to the garden.