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Around-the-world poppies...they are Western superstars.

Around-the-world poppies . . . they are Western superstars

Vivid, eye-catching colors make poppies stand out in the garden or in the house, and backlighting seems to show them off best. Sunlight glowing through tissue-thin petals and highlighting fine hairs on leaves and stems enhances the flowers' most attractive features.

Whether you're planting Iceland or Shirley poppies for months of color, alpine poppies for a profusion of delicate blooms, or Oriental poppies for a brief but show-stopping display, you'll find them all fairly easy to grow. Choose among them to fill different niches in the garden.

Iceland poppy, the Arctic wildflower

Native to the far north, the Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule) thrives in cool weather. In mild-winter parts of California and the low desert, buy it in sixpacks, 4-inch pots, or gallon cans now and plant for bloom through spring. In mild parts of the Northwest, sow seed this fall or buy plants next spring; either way you'll get bloom from spring through fall. In cold-winter areas, sow seed indoors in earliest spring or buy plants then for bloom in spring and fall.

Flowers--mostly red, yellow, orange, and white--sometimes have mauve, salmon, pink, and green mixed in. Blooms are usually single--in color and form--with occasional picotees, bicolors, and doubles. Expect a few duds: buds with no petals inside.

By far the most popular hybrid, Champagne Bubbles has 3-inch blooms on stalks about 16 inches high. Foliage clumps are about 8 inches tall. Improved versions include Champagne Bubbles Improved, Oregon Rainbow, San Remo, and Sparkling Bubbles. A smaller strain is Garden Gnome, and an extra-tall form is Gartford Giants.

The biggest Iceland poppy, bred in Japan and available here for the first time this fall, is Misato-Carnival Plant; its flowers grow to twice the size of Champagne Bubbles in the same colors. Seed is sold by The Country Garden, Route 2, Box 455A, Crivitz, Wis. 54114; catalog $2.

For maximum bloom, remove seed pods often and keep plants well watered. To collect seed, cut off the capsules after they dry completely, then shake seed into your hand or an envelope; it's ready to plant. Sow seed exactly where you want it; existing plants will self-sow.

In mild climates, plant Iceland poppy in full sun; in hot-summer areas, part shade Soil should be rich and drain well.

Shirley poppy: old friend from Europe

An intensely red wildflower, the Flanders poppy (P. rhoeas) covers fields across Europe. Its common garden form, the Shirley poppy, takes its name from the English town in which it was selected.

The Shirley produces 2-inch single or double flowers in pinks, reds, oranges, and white. Fringed, streaked, and bicolored forms also turn up. Growing to 3 feet, the Shirley poppy does well everywhere in the West, and, although it works with other flowers--especially with dwarf sweet peas--it's at its best when standing alone.

In all but the hottest parts of the West, sow in spring for bloom about two months later. Or, in mild-winter areas, sow in fall for earlier bloom. Shirley and Flanders poppies can be sown right where you want them to grow. For successive bloom, plant at one-month intervals. If you sow only once, keep flowers coming by picking seed capsules weekly. To allow plants to self-sow, stop picking the pods toward the end of the bloom season. Or, as with the Iceland poppy, cut off completely dry pods and shake to release the ready-to-plant seed into your hand or an envelope.

Seed of the Flanders (also called corn poppy) and Shirley poppy is widely sold, and plants are sold in season.

Oriental poppy: needs winter frost

Like the Oriental rug, the Oriental poppy (P. orientale) was named for its Near Eastern origin. Discovered in Syria, this showiest of poppies is also the longest lived and largest of common garden poppies. It thrives in areas of the West that get reliable winter frost. Most kinds reach 3 feet (the dwarf "Allegro' grows to half that); under perfect conditions, the most vigorous varieties grow to 4 feet.

An herbaceous perennial, it shows little foliage until spring. By May, the poppy's large, hairy, deeply cut leaves reach 2 to 3 feet tall, and flower stalks appear. By June, a three-week profusion of bloom starts: saucer-size flowers 6 to 8 inches across (shown on pages 93 and 94) come in white, pink, orange, red, and many shades between.

After bloom, foliage declines and dies. In July, cut whatever remains to the ground. Because this will create visual holes, plant the poppy with other perennials, such as baby's breath or sword ferns, that will fill in when it's gone.

The Oriental poppy likes well-prepared, well-drained soil (essential in winter) and full sun where summers are mild. In hot-summer areas, plant in filtered sunlight. Extra fertilizer is unnecessary, and plants can handle some drought.

The easiest way to increase your Oriental poppies is to divide existing plants or order nursery stock now. You can also sow seed this fall; plants and flowers will appear next spring.

Take divisions any time after foliage dies down; the photographs below show how. When you plant, set crowns an inch below the soil surface (3 inches in cold-winter areas). Roots without crowns should also develop plants but won't flower as early.

If you order roots by mail, do so immediately, since most companies ship only during September and the first two or three weeks of October. Two sources that take telephone orders are Wayside Gardens, Inc., Hodges, S.C. 29695, (800) 845-1124, and White Flower Farm, Litchfield, Conn. 06759, (203) 496-9600. Wayside has "Curlilocks' plus a full color range of named varieties; its catalog costs $1. White Flower has all the named varieties pictured here plus others; its catalog costs $5.

Promising hybrid has Oriental heritage

A newcomer, the Minicaps hybrid, has flowers similar to the Oriental poppy's but a longer bloom season. Plants come in three sizes: dwarf (1 to 2 feet), standard (2 to 4 feet), and tall (4 to 6 feet). Flowers range from pale pink to bright red. Since the Minicaps hybrid is quite new, it's still uncertain how plants will perform in different areas. If you want to experiment in your garden, plants will be available in spring 1987 from Mohn's, Inc., Box 2301, Atascadero, Calif. 93423; its catalog is available now for $1.

Alpine poppy: a profusion of bloom

Smallest of the garden poppies, alpine poppy (P. burseri, sometimes sold as P. alpinum) is a classic diminutive rock garden plant. Its silvery, finely cut foliage makes a good background for the red, yellow, white, orange, and pink flowers that rise above it in late spring.

Like the Iceland poppy, the alpine is a short-lived perennial that's easy to start from seed. It grows anywhere but lives longest in colder climates. In mild-winter areas, sow in fall; in colder climates, sow indoors in spring.

In spring and early summer, some nurseries sell plants. Before you set them out, shear off flowers; new buds will quickly replace them. Provide full sun or part shade and moist, well-drained soil.

Photo: Shirley poppy: bright flowers, geometric seed pods, and hairy stems all contribute to its beauty. Red hints at Flanders poppy heritage

Photo: Alpine poppy: half-dollar-size flowers appear through spring or, in mild areas, early summer. Plants reach 6 inches

Photo: Oriental poppy: light pink "Lighthouse' (foreground and back of bouquet), silveredged deep pink "Victoria Dreyfus', white "Marshall von der Goltz', orange "Oriental', and orange-and-white "Pinnacle'

Photo: Iceland poppy: delicate blooms infuse bed in this Southern California garden with vibrant color. They're interplanted with pansies and violas, edged with sweet alyssum

Photo: After bloom peaked in late spring, these Champagne Bubbles Iceland poppies continued to flower into fall. Removing seed pods helped prolong the bloom time

Photo: Pushing up through perennials, pink-flowered Oriental poppies steal the show. When blooms finish, surrounding perennials conceal the poppy's declining foliage

Photo: Double flowers occur in these pure strain Shirley poppies as commonly as singles. Doubles and singles have same color range, come in both fringed and solid petal forms

Photo: 1. In July, when Oriental poppy foliage looks ragged, cut off tops close to the ground

Photo: 2. Dig up root clump any time after cutting off foliage and gently pull apart the intertwined roots

Photo: 3. All of these roots came from the clump pictured at left. They're ready to plant any time in summer or fall
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1986
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