Poppy Power

Can there be a lovelier flower than the poppy? What other can look so frail yet be so resilient to wind and rain? And how can such a paper thin petal hold such an intensity of colour whether it is the scarlet of the wild, the pale pink of the domesticated or the dazzling purity of the white?
< Poppy seed needs light to germinate and this is why they appear in their thousands in disturbed soil whether it is the ploughed cornfield, the scarred battlefield or just our humble vegetable plots, newly dug. They can survive buried for centuries and have even been known to germinate from seed found in archaelogical excavations.
< In the garden I use them all the time - sometimes the wild and sometimes the cultivated varieties, either mix with all types of plants and in all situations. <

These double white Icelandic poppies weren't carefully sown in trays and planted out - just a packet of seed thrown onto the ground where I noticed some of our native White Campion (Silene alba) growing in a border. Both flowered for months and when fading pulled up and put onto the compost heap: there will be enough fallen seed of both to germinate again next year.

< The pink Oriental poppy shown here is the variety 'Turkish Delight' growing amongst Geranium 'Johnson's Blue' (not named, unfortunately, after me!). Unlike most of the poppies which are annuals, the Orientals grow year after year from the same rootstock and require some staking to keep upright unless you cheat like me - the Geranium disguises the partially collapsed, sprawling stems.

< A sea of catmint, ox-eye daisies and bright red Oriental poppies I planted below creates a dramatic walk through an old walled kitchen garden. The poppy is 'Beauty of Livermere' and has an extravagance that our smaller native poppy could not achieve. Extravagance in space too for this border will only look good for about two months. Once the flowers fade, which they do together, they are all cut off - leaves and all - to ground level. Within two weeks new growth will appear but there will be no more drama until next year.


  1. Poppies are a favorite of mine but I am having trouble getting them established here. Any hints for me?

    The walkway is stunning. Too bad it's beauty is short lived. Beautiful pictures Johnson. :)

  2. Thanks Jeannie. I would have thought you would be ok growing the annual poppies from seed. Our winters are so short and mild compared to yours so I'm not certain (we rarely drop below -8C here) - try starting them indoors just for the first time. I would avoid the Orientals as possibly their roots don't cope with being frozen for so long perhaps - although my book tells me they are hardy to -20C. Not sure what zone that is as we don't use that system in England. The golden rule of gardening is don't give up trying!!

  3. Johnson, I will take your advice. I see them all over the place up here--so I am desperate to know what I am doing wrong!! Maybe too much TLC!! :)

  4. I didn't know that there are so many varieties of poppies Johnson. Of course i know the ones that grow on Flanders fields but so many other colors, that's new for me.
    I like the pictures, in particular the one of the “dramatic walk through” it's a very natural way of gardening and a beautiful creation.

  5. Yes, Fran, there are many sorts - mostly pinks, reds & whites. But there are also yellows and oranges if you include the closely related Welsh poppies - Meconopsis which also includes the difficult to grow (for me at least) Himilayan blue poppy.
    The walk is a favourite of mine but you need a lot of spare space for it as for ten months of the year it is rather boring!

  6. Jeannie - Thinking about it, the Icelandic poppies originated in the Artic so yhey must grow in cold climates!

  7. I know that they do grow here as we have them everywhere around here. I've tried tossing them on bare ground, planting in the ground, & starting them indoors but they don't thrive. The ones I planted in the ground are up but they've not bloomed this year. The ones in pots did bloom--they are yellow and orange. The ones I started indoors were too spindly (even with a grow light) and did not survive outdoors. I'm rather discouraged and envious of my neighbors who had beautiful red poppies "popping" out all over! I must be trying too hard. I understood that they were easy to grow. My green thumb is failing me!

  8. Hello Johnson, can i ask you for your expert advice?
    I think here i am on the right place for that. When is it the "right" time to prune lavender. This year i had almost no flowers, my husband pruned the lavender very late in august. Was it maybe too late for that. Thanks in advance.

  9. Hello Fran. If your lavenders are the standard hardy sort (they flower just the once in the summer)they should be quite severely pruned now - early August. If they are the slightly more tender sort, such as the French lavenders, L.stoechas, they also need a similar treatment but as they tend to flower throughout the summer it is a little difficult to know when! It is best to do this immediately after the first flowers die and new flowers should then appear a bit later.
    All lavenders don't grow well from bare, old wood so cut making sure you leave some shoots showing - I wonder if perhaps last year you pruned too severely?
    Also, this advice is for growing in England. Am I right in thinking that you have colder winters on the Continent? If so, your late August pruning might have been just that little bit too late.
    Hope this helps! Johnson

  10. Thank you very much for all the info Johnson, that's very kind of you.
    Yes we have the hardy sort lavender and normally I prune them around this time but then I just prune only the flowers. Last year my husband pruned them so severe that there were almost no more shoots showing. As you say maybe that was a little “too drastic” and too late in August. We have one advantage now: now they are less hardy. Maybe we will have more flowers next year.
    What made things worse: we also had a very cold and long winter. I thought that we have here on the Continent almost the same temperature as you have in England Johnson. In fact: that's what I assume, when I follow the weather news on TV.
    We had beautiful bulbous Buxus ( Buxaceae) in our front garden and they were all frozen this year. This was the first time in 14, 5 years that we encountered this.
    Hm hm, and now I am going to prune the lavender immediately before it's too late!

    Enjoy your work, your hobby and your vice versa Johnson and make many beautiful creations!


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