Sunday, June 21, 2009

Simple Pleasures

Shirley poppies are hardly considered a classic example of the kind of plant grown by sophisticated horticulturalists, but they really are quite exquisite. Maybe they are just too easy to grow--find a sunny spot (in this case my school slope garden), sprinkle the seed on bare ground in March (while the temps are still cool) or early April, keep weeded, and stand back. Truth is I don't often see them in gardens around here, probably because like all poppies they hate transplanting and thus won't be found in nurseries selling annuals in packs (funny how "packs" have shrunk from 6 plants to four or even two lately) for the lazy gardener who has no idea of how to grow plants from seed. They also don't bloom all summer, they relish cool weather (something we've had an unusual amount of for May and June, along with the most clouds and rain in my living memory) and quickly fade as July's heat takes hold. They form tons of seed, then dry up and die (if the spider mites don't do them in first) but they are back the following spring from self sown seeds. Some seeds may even sprout during the fall and overwinter as tiny plants--these tend to form the most vigorous plants as they have a head start. Still, seeds of the various strains are easy and inexpensive to obtain, and so long as they have some bare ground and sun, they can be counted on to return year after year. I've tagged some of the more unusual flower colors and forms, so I can save seed from them, for I understand that after years of self sowing the red forms take over. Actually the reds are quite splendid and bold, but the softer shades and picotees (the white picotee is the identifying mark of the "real" Shirley poppy as opposed to other forms/strains of Papaver rhoeas) are also quite stunning in a different way.

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