PAPAVER – poppy

A fully hardy group of well-loved perennial, biennial and annual plants grown for their cup-shaped blooms. Most are easily grown from seed. There are poppies for the herbaceous border and for the rock garden.

Suitable site and soil. Most poppies are not too fussed about type of soil but they do best in a well-drained, rich, deep, sandy loam in a sunny position in a border. Rock garden species need a very gritty soil.

Cultivation and care. Poppies are usually treated either as annuals or perennials. Generally they need little care but the perennial P. orientate needs staking while it grows.

Propagation. Most can simply be grown from seed sown in the flowering site but named varieties of the perennial P. orientate need to be propagated by root cuttings taken in winter if they are to remain true to their colour.

Recommended varieties. P. rhoeas (the field poppy) is an annual and the ‘Shirley Double Mixed’, in mixed colours grown from seed in shades of red, pink, salmon and white, grows up to 60cm – 2ft and spreads 30cm – lft. P. alpinum (P. burseri, alpine poppy) is usually grown as an annual for rock gardens and has small flowers 21 – 2cm – 1 inch across. P. orientate (the oriental poppy) is a perennial growing to 75cm – 2l – fcft. Forms of P. nudicaule (the Iceland poppy) are perennial but are almost always treated as annuals; they grow to about 60cm – 2ft and make outstanding cut flowers.

Pests and diseases. May suffer from downy mildew.


Varieties of P. nudicaule (Iceland poppy) make good cut flowers when picked just as the buds open. Field poppies (P. rhoeas) are also suitable for cutting but the cut ends must be charred or they fade fast.

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