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Gardening people: Poppy love.

Byline: CHARLES LYTE

HAT can you grow in almost any garden and be sure of a wonderful show? Look no further than the humble poppy, which can be sown as soon as your soil is warm enough.

Poppies have always been popular, but never more so than now, mainly because they are such little trouble. The family name is Papaver, and they are to be found in the wild in Europe, Asia, Australia, South Africa and North America.

As a result, there are varieties to suit every soil type and most weather conditions. And once they're in you can all but forget about them.

P. rhoes is the scarlet poppy of our cornfields, as well as being immortalised as the poppy that sprang up on the battlefields of Flanders after the First World War.

From the species was developed the beautiful Shirley poppies, ranging in colour from white to red, and the variety `Valerie Finnis' in lovely shades of mauve, grey and pink.

The most flamboyant of all is the oriental poppy (P. orientalis), which is a short-lived perennial. But as it reproduces so freely, you will never be without it. It ranges in colour from pure white - usually with a striking black centre - through to deep orange, bright red, pink and purple. They are normally grown in herbaceous and flower borders, but will be just as happy in open spaces among shrubs, or on semi-wild slopes.

Outstanding among the annual poppies is the opium poppy, P. somniferum, the most decorative of which are the double peony-like flowered hybrids.

You will have to wait until June or July to sow the Iceland Poppy (P. nudicaule, above) for flowering next year. There are dwarf forms, but with their strong wiry stems, the lovely tall varieties are the ones to grow for cutting. The wide range of bright and pastel shades make them ideal for flower arranging.

Usually called poppy worts, the Meconopsis are also superb plants. We have one native Meconopsis in this country, the famed Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambrica). Once established in a garden it will self-seed freely, producing clear yellow flowers over a long period during the late spring to autumn. It likes shady, cool spots and there is a lovely red-orange cultivar, `Francis Perry', which is a favourite of mine.

The most spectacular of this group, though, is the blue Himalayan poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia). The peacock-blue flowers look as though they have been cut out of silk.

A cross between betonicifolia and M. grandis has given birth to Meconopsis x sheldonii, a very good, easily grown blue.

All are readily raised from seed, but care must be taken in growing them on, and it is best not to allow them to flower in their first year so that really strong plants are produced that will be more reliably perennial.

Califorian poppies (Eschscholzia californica) are quite simply marvellous, with the flowers ranging from deep orange to yellow. And they also self- seed freely.

When sowing, make sure that the sowing sites are clean and weed-free and you should be guaranteed a colourful result. With annual poppies, you can simply scatter the seed on the soil and gently rake it in. You will probably have to thin them out when they are big enough to handle.

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SELF-RAISING FLOWERS: A field of wild scarlet poppies can inspire you to grow your own
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Mar 10, 2002
Words:563
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