Oriental Poppies – a Garden Favorite

Jazz up your garden with oriental poppies

In my morning and evening walks, I’ve been noticing 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 (especially this spring) climate, it’s almost impossible to not have a colorful gorgeous garden.

The ones I’ve noticed range from pure white with inky bases to 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.

oriental poppies

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, many 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.

All show a rosette of hairy deep green leaves that are deeply cut and up to 25 cm in length. The plants, in bloom, can be as much as four feet tall. From this basal rosette of fern-like foliage rise erect majestic stems, 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.

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 blooms drop their petals, clip them off to encourage new blossoming. Seedheads left to ripen can be collected for seed, or allowed to self seed. Left on the plant, they will also add interest to your winter garden. As the flowering season ceases, the foliage will die down until spring.oriental poppies

It is possible to 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.

Space the new plants — or purchased ones — at least 30 cm apart. Mulch around them with organic compost, and water well at first. Once established, they require little water.

If you collect your own seeds, plant them in the fall in a flat. They require frost to germinate.

In spring, the new shoots will appear and should be potted up singly. They can be transplanted to the garden beds when they grow to a 4 inch size. Oriental poppies can also be grown from commercial seed mixtures. The resulting seedlings will possibly vary in color from plant to plant, which can add more variety to the garden.

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