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Gardeners' Holy Grail; meconopsis Lure of the blue poppy.

David Rankin gave an illustrated talk on the Himalayan blue poppy at the latest meeting of Barony Gardening Club.

David, of Kevock Nursery, Lasswade, said the blue poppy (meconopsis) is not quite the fabled flower but some regard it as almost the Holy Grail.

It has a reputation for being difficult but its allure induces many to have a go with it. David and his staff have made a success of growing and exhibiting meconopsis largely by understanding the plant's habitat and being able to offer it the right climate. Cool, wet weather suits the plants perfectly.

David began by offering a few other blue subjects: gentian, delphinium and corydalis. These all have, commonly, blue forms; and they, too, can present the gardener with difficulties but the pure sky blue of the archetypal Himalayan poppy seems to be very special - although David described a heart-stopping moment when he saw a hillside in China made vivid red by a sea of M. punicea.

Perhaps the most commonly grown types are the monocarpic varieties. These are the annual and biennial varieties, when the plant dies after flowering and setting seed. Some varieties may take three or more years to do this. The varieties lingholm and baileyi are among the more reliable of this type.

When the parent plant dies, in this way, gardeners may feel that that is part of their difficulty. However, they are prolific setters of seed - but promiscuous too. And so succeeding generations may display variations in colour, unless the parent plants are all the same variety. Indeed, there are white (marit), yellow (paniculata) and pink (nepaulensis) varieties.

David warned gardeners against thinking one of their hybrids might be a new species: that is most unlikely.

If the seed falls on suitable ground - humus-rich, moist, sheltered and semi-shaded - then germination is likely to be successful. David suggested a good indicator of a suitable site was the presence of moss.

There are perennial varieties of meconopsis but these rarely produce viable seed and so need to be propagated by division - best in the autumn. But their flowers are equally eye-catching, and they are often tall, some with several flowers on a stalk. Slieve Donard, Dalemain and Bobby Masterton are examples.

David and his team have exhibited meconopsis at Chelsea, Harrogate and Chatsworth, receiving gold medals, and a cup for best in show at Harrogate.

Kevock specialises in alpine, bog and woodland plants and provides a mail order service. He had brought samples of the plants and club members were keen to make some purchases - no doubt hoping to be mesmerised next summer by the appearance of those spectacular sky blue flowers.

The next meeting will be on January 10 when Mike Jack will speak about A Year in the Garden at Broughton House.

This will be held at the Barony (SRUC) Campus, Parkgate, at 7.15 pm. Everyone is welcome.

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Publication:Dumfries and Galloway Standard (Dumfriesshire, Scotland)
Date:Dec 18, 2018
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