Growing and Caring for Poppies

ALTHOUGH a few members of the poppy family (Papa-veraceae) flower in spring, for the most part they are summer plants. They do much to add to the gaiety of our summer borders and beds for they are colourful plants.

The best-known members of the family are the poppies themselves. These are found in catalogues under the name Papaver. They include hardy perennials, biennials and annuals, all easy to grow, with large, brightly coloured flowers which have earned them a great deal of popularity. The largest and in some ways the most brilliant flowers are borne by the Oriental poppies (Papaver orientate). These have fleshy roots which go a long way down into the soil and they are among those plants which, once they have been planted, ought to be left alone for many years as they resent root disturbance.

They grow some 2-3 ft. tall, although there is a dwarf variety, Peter Pan, which has cerise-scarlet flowers and reaches only 1 ft. These Oriental poppies will grow in any kind of soil, even heavy clay, provided it is well cultivated and lightened in some way before planting, to make it better drained. Planting is best carried out in October or March or April and once a group of plants has been established, subsequent cultivation merely consists in top-dressing with well-rotted manure or compost in early spring as these plants are gross feeders.

Much smaller, growing about 6 in. tall, is the Alpine Poppy, Papaver alpimmi: This is easy to grow but does best in the lighter soils. It flowers all summer long and is raised easily from seed sown in spring.

Of the various hardy annual poppies, the most popular are the Shirley Poppies or Corn Poppies, all varieties of Papaver rhoeas and all growing about 1 – 2 ft. tall. Seed of these is sown in April for summer flowering or in the autumn for spring flowering. Once again there is an excellent range of colours and there are also double-flowered varieties and strains.

The seeds of these annual poppies are very small and nee^d very little soil covering. The seedlings should be thinned out to 2 or 3 in. apart when they are small. Self-sown seedlings appear freely and surplus ones may be hoed up if they appear where they are not required.

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