Wednesday 22 November 2017

Poppy daze: star of the east shines in summer

Gerry Daly

What a great show the Oriental poppies have been making in recent weeks. One of the mainstay plants for the second half of May and the first weeks of June, every year a bit earlier or later, this dramatic plant lights up many a garden with its huge, crushed silk flowers.

It is a true poppy, which could not be doubted, given its poppy shape and colour. The flower is several times larger than the wild red poppies of cornfields and roadsides, which are in flower now too. The Oriental part of the name is also correct, but refers to the Near East in this case.

The Oriental poppy is native to Turkey and neighbouring countries, and the region of the Caucasus Mountains. It is quick off the mark in spring, making sure to get its growing done early in the year. Being native to regions with baking-hot summers, it dies back by mid-summer, job done.

This habit of dying away can leave an awkward gap in a border but plants that need to spread can be planted close by, such as geraniums, persicaria, dahlias and many of the daisy flowers, coreopsis, helenium and achillea. These need space later in the summer and can cover the gap left by the Oriental poppy when it dies back.

Plant the poppy in a position of reasonably good shelter because the large, relatively soft stems tend to be quite easily blown about. Tying up or staking is not a great idea. The flowers turn back to the sunlight anyway and look better left leaning over as it is part of the nature of the plant to be a bit flop-about.

There is quite a good colour range besides the usual bright poppy red, some lovely soft pinks and smoky plum. 'Beauty of Livermere' is a popular deep red variety often seen in old gardens. 'Allegro' has a good bright orange-red colour. 'Glowing Embers' is red too. 'Pattys' Plum' is deep soft plum-purple.

'Cedric Morris' has pale pink flowers. 'Princess Marie Louise' has large pink-orange flowers. 'Mrs Perry' is pale salmon-pink, and 'Turkish Delight' is also pale salmon-pink but with no black blotches on the petals. 'Perry's White' is pure white with a deep blackberry blotch at the base of the petals.

Just one plant is good but the effect is much more dramatic if plants are planted in several places in a garden. Plant in good rich fertile soil with plenty of organic material. The Oriental poppy does best in a sunny spot, not flowering well if too much shaded.

Irish Independent

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