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Gardening with Gael - Sowing poppy seeds couldn't be easier


common poppy-592A friend from England recently posted photos of the poppies growing in her garden. How can anyone not want any of the poppy family popping their brightly coloured paper petalled heads out from among the plants in any border, herbaceous or vegetable?

Occasionally I have been successful with the glowing orange Californian poppy and even less frequently a smattering of Shirley poppies. Just up the road a drift of Flanders poppies that we associate with Anzac Day suddenly burst into flower for the enjoyment of anyone travelling up our road.

The photo prompted a desire to have some growing this year. In my drawers I have packets with ‘poppy seeds from [insert name]’ waiting to be planted. There has to be a good time of the year I thought. And there is. Autumn apparently. They need the cold over the winter. This year is so mild I have decided that we will probably be ok if the seeds are scattered now. A little late but I consider we should be ok. My eldest grandchild is called Poppy and because she is 20 this year I think it would be appropriate to have a good display in my garden.

Sowing the seeds couldn’t be easier. Poppies prefer a sunny site in well drained soil. Those of us who have dug humus and compost into our sand should have the perfect medium. Clear of any weeds, sprinkle the seeds and (as they say in the advertisements) ‘walk away’.

Do not rake in and do not cover. Here is where I consider I have gone wrong in the past. Poppies need light to germinate, therefore covering them, even with a light layer is unnecessary. They don’t enjoy the heat of summer and do best in spring , autumn and winter. It appears early autumn is a good time to sprinkle those seeds as well. We may be a little late this year but I am going to give them a good try.

Poppies are an annual. Because they are very attractive to bees who use them as a pollen source they are a great companion plant in the vegetable garden. Most have between four and six petals. Those of the opium poppy have a double set of petals. They grow wild in eastern and southern Asia and the Mediterranean region. Poppy seeds are a great source of oil, carbohydrates, protein and calcium. My friend Bev has a particularly delicious poppy seed cake recipe and our local cafe Oasis serves irresistible lemon and poppy seed muffins.

One of my favourite poppies is the Eschschozia californica or California poppy. The state flower of California, the beautiful single cup shaped bright orange blooms are a particularly cheerful addition to any garden. The joy of these is that once they have successfully flowered they will seed themselves, appearing in cracks in rock gardens and even along the side of gravel drives. This poppy can flower, set seeds and produce new flowering plants in the same season. Cutting them back hard mid-summer will encourage further flowering.

Unfortunately we are a bit warm for meconopsis betonicifolia, the Himalayan blue poppy (also called the Tibetan blue poppy) which tolerates cold weather and cool damp woodland conditions. A perennial, it can take up to three years to flower and then is rather short lived.

The poppy most common to our gardens is Papaver rhoeas or Shirley poppy. Clear coloured white, pink and red with single and double blooms on erect hairy stems, these are the poppies which appear in the public gardens in Whangarei. This year maybe in Mangawhai as well.

Papaver rhoeas, our most common poppy, is also known as the ‘Anzac’ or ‘rememberance’ poppy.

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