“Flowers are the music of the ground from the earth’s lips spoken without sound.” – Edwin Curran
In 1915, Major John McCrae, Canadian military doctor and artillery commander, wrote “In Flanders Fields.” It is believed that the death of his dear friend Alexis Helmer, who was killed in the second battle of Ypres, Belgium, was the inspiration for this poem. Thus, poppies became a symbol of remembrance and are truly another beauty of the garden world.
One lovey day in June, too many years ago, I became acquainted with poppies. My mother was hosting her garden club at our home. The ladies were going to tour her garden and enjoy a nice luncheon. Perfect weather was setting the stage for a most enjoyable day. The garden was in its normal state of gorgeousness. Especially so, was a large bed of magnificent California poppies in perfect bloom. And, by the way, Mom had raised all of these precious poppies from seed and then transplanted the seedlings at just the proper time (poppies are temperamental about being transplanted). Truly, it all was a glorious show. Until, disaster struck. Mom discovered Blue, my sweet Basset Hound, lounging (on his back with feet in the air) in the middle of her prized poppies. So much for the poppies being the center of attention. However, the beautiful day, the garden, the food and fellowship made the day a success, even considering Blue’s shenanigans.
During my forty plus years of gardening, poppies have never been on my plant wish list. Although, aware of their beauty and charm, I also knew, or thought, they take considerable patience to grow. But, along came Cathy, my former neighbor and great gardening friend. She, once again reminded me of their beauty. Cathy and I shared a fence line. A six-foot white vinyl fence. A nice fence, not a beautiful fence. Cathy decided to grow red poppies on her side of the fence. Remember, I said poppies are temperamental to grow, I learned from Cathy there are secrets. Early one cold and misty March morning Cathy was outside scattering poppy seeds. That summer when those brilliant red poppies bloomed against the white fence they were stunningly beautiful. Cathy grew those beauties every year. And, they lived almost two years after she moved, but did not flourish. Poppies will re-seed themselves and they have a mind of their own. However, to keep them full and beautiful, and growing in the location you desire, one must move the seedlings on a cold and misty March morning. Truly, this means one is a devoted gardener. Early March in West Virginia is cold, and bone chilling when it is wet.
When my dear friend moved, that was the end of the poppies, or so I thought. It seems as though poppies are meant to be in my life. I follow a blog written by Sharon Santoni, who lives in Normandy, France. Sharon writes about her life in France, her home, cooking and recipes, ongoing projects, her gardens, what she is growing, her two crazy dogs and her family. Certainly, by now you know her blog is absolutely my cup of tea.
One mid-summer day three years ago, I was enjoying my morning coffee and reading Sharon’s blog. On this particular day she was offering a “give-away.” The lucky winner would be the recipient her poppy seeds. To enter, I simply needed to reply and state why I would like to win. Of course I had to enter. And, you guessed it – I won! Summer moved on and I had almost forgotten about the poppy seeds when an envelope arrived in the mail, post marked France. I was thrilled and knew exactly what was inside the envelope. Carefully, I opened the envelope and inside was a tiny packet containing my seeds, planting instructions and something totally unexpected. A small, lovely watercolor painting of a poppy painted by Sharon. What joy I felt – joy from someone I had never met. To me, the watercolor is priceless. And, of course it is framed and proudly hangs in our home.
Those tiny poppy seeds were carefully put away until a cold, misty morning in March. Following the instructions, which were the same as the other two poppy growers in my life, I ventured outside. Dressed for the delightful weather, I gathered my tools and went to work. I lightly scratched the surface of the soil, evenly scattered the seeds, and covered them lightly with soil. Job finished, I went inside for hot tea.
The snow came and went, the daffodils arrived and we began to see spring. One pretty morning I thought I would see if there were any signs of the poppies. None were visible that I could see, however, I began to check them daily. Then after about a week, I saw something very different, understand there are many varieties of poppies. And, my French poppies are like none I had ever seen. I showed them to my husband and he felt they were weeds. My decision, let’s save one and see. Sure enough, that first year I had one poppy and I guarded it with the ferociousness of a “mamma bear.” The next year I had several and this year I had a lovely collection, in a small parterre (garden within a garden) of very special French poppies – Sharon’s poppies, from “across the pond.”
When the poppies bloomed that first year, I thought to myself, these are lovely and quite different. After much research, I discovered my French poppies are distinctively different. They are an heirloom rose peony poppy. Their bloom form and foliage is completely different from anything I have ever seen in the United States. It is certainly understandable they are an heirloom variety as Sharon’s home in France is quite old, and it is highly possible the poppies were on the property when it was purchased.
Poppies are not particular about soil conditions, however, they must be planted in well-drained soil with a sunny location. There are many varieties, colors and bloom forms to choose from. They can be grown from seed and are also available as plants at some garden centers in the early spring. Because most varieties of poppies self-seed, their charm is added when they are allowed to scatter themselves about, allowing nature to be the designer.
In closing, should you currently have poppies in your garden, you are aware of the incredible charm and beauty they add. If not, consider planting them. Who knows where or how far the seeds will scatter. Mine will soon be on their way to a friend in Florida. “A poppy is to remember.”
See you soon,
The red poppy is the national flower of Belgium.
The red poppy is a symbol of fallen soldiers and remembrance.
The California poppy is the state flower of California.
Source for seeds: Renee’s Garden Seeds (great source) www.reneesgarden.com They offer a wide selection of poppy seeds.