Groff's Plant Farm Images


Published: Tue May 16th 2017



















The poppies are staring to bloom. The vibrant red and orange flowers appear for such a short period of time, but always make me a bit sad.

Since ancient times, poppies have been a symbol of sleep and death. In the popular poem “In Flanders Fields” describing trench warfare during World War I John McCrae writes how the “...poppies blow between the crosses…”. That makes sense, because poppies grow best in disturbed poor soil. Corn poppies (Papapver rhoeas), which McCrae was referring to, are an annual red poppy that grows in and around fields of Europe. Since the Great War, the poppy has been a symbol of Remembrance Day, or as we call it in America, Veterans Day on November 11th.

We all remember too, how Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and Toto all fall asleep in the poppy field on the way to the Emerald City.

The opium poppy (Papavar somniferum) was domesticated over 8,000 years ago in Central Europe. Its pain relieving properties were widely used by Egyptian and Greek doctors. Specifically, codeine and morphine are contained in the sap, and seeds of the pods. Heroin is a synthetic drug based on the structure of morphine.

The poppies that grow best in our garden are the Oriental poppies (Papavar orientale). These are perennial plants that once established, have survived for over 20 years in rocky lean soil in a hillside flowerbed on the farm. They produce a clump of foliage, bloom for about 2 weeks in the end of May, and then the plants go dormant and disappear during the heat of the summer. Often times the foliage returns in the fall, but does not flower again. Is it worth space in the garden for something that only blooms 2 weeks? Anyone that has ever seen them blooming mixed with the purple and blue Siberian Iris would argue, yes, they deserve their spot. They have no medicinal qualities.

Another favorite of mine is the Spanish Poppy (Papaver rupafragum). This little beauty is a light orange with more delicate foliage, but loves the sunny, dry conditions. It does well in rock gardens and the front of the border. I would classify it as a short-lived perennial, surviving for several years, reseeding gently, than may disappear.

The blue poppy (Mecanopsis ‘Lingholm’) comes to Longwood Gardens every year for a few weeks. The flowers are absolutely stunning. These plants are native to the Himalayan Mountain range and are just about impossible to grow here. Go visit them at Longwood in March be amazed. I have given up trying to grow them.

Icelandic and California poppies are best treated as annuals in this area. But they come in a cheerful mix of pinks, yellow, cream and orange and bloom from April into mid-summer when it gets hot.

Poppies are one of my favorite groups of plants. Maybe I appreciate them because they make such a brief appearance. But it certainly hard not to notice them.