Poppies for winter and summer

August 17th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Flowers and foliage of 'Victoria Cross' poppies

This summer, I’ve really come to appreciate the value of opium poppies. I wrote about them here back in the spring but now I have another take on them.

Oh, but just to be clear: it’s called the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, but you’d be hard pressed to extract any opium from it. You won’t find the special varieties used for opium production down at the garden centre!

In the garden, opium poppies bring us wonderful summer flowers in an increasing range of shades, single and double. These are followed by fat pods which can easily be dried for winter decoration. But the feature that I’ve especially noticed this year is the foliage.

From when the plants are small the slightly shiny greyish-bluish-green foliage stands out and, as it develops, it makes an increasingly eye-catching contribution. This year, I started off leaving all the self sown seedlings that came up – wherever they emerged. Then, if necessary, I simply removed those that turned out to be in the way. The result was bright bluish sparks of colour all over the garden.

But now I’m looking for both larger rosettes of foliage for winter and also flowers in colours I choose, not in colours that the unpredictability of self sown seedlings provide.

So I’m all set with some ‘Victoria Cross’, with its dramatic white splashed scarlet flowers. Mr F donates 25p from the cost of each packet of ‘Victoria Cross’ (above) to the Royal Hospital Chelsea and the other day presented the with a cheque for an amazing £73,399.25! So give it a try. And I’ll also be sowing the rich purple ‘Lauren’s Grape’. I thought that ‘Maanzaad’, new this spring, was rather watery in colour so I don’t think I’ll bother with that one.

I’m going to sow them this week in patches amongst shrubs and roses and summer perennials for the pleasure of their winter rosettes – with the flowers to come next summer. And at Christmas I’ll be spraying this year’s dried pods silver. Foliage, flowers and pods – these must be the best value annuals you can grow.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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