There it is, the spring garden’s flame, finally popped out of a soft downy jacket, sinuous, blowsy unfurled petals shining in the sun. When my spring bulb visual feast is over, I need hot colors in my garden palette, and the oriental poppy is just the ticket. It’s loud, it’s big and it’s sexy!
Veteran garden writer Tom Fischer reminds us that colorful varieties of oriental poppies are “complex hybrids” and “have been around for a hundred years.” Their story begins when an English nurseryman named Amos Perry discovered a salmon pink poppy in his bed of red poppies, and began a breeding progam that has given us white, pink, salmon and even a “liverish purple” (thank you for that image, Mr. Fischer!).
What’s not to love about these flamboyant blossoms?
To grow these lovely giants, sow the seeds in the fall, or buy a specimen in the spring and gingerly plant it since the roots hate to be disturbed. Each year, mine add more blossoms and even self seed more beauties for next year. However, Tom Fischer warns us that unless we take a root cutting of a particular color, this perennial will revert to its typical scarlet and orange. Meanwhile, though it clashes horribly with my raspberry rhodies, I let it brighten my back garden, while in the front border, my oriental poppies dance winsomely with California poppies and hardy geraniums:
Oriental poppies fling themselves into the garden landscape for only a short time each year. After they’ve stopped blossoming, cut them back to the ground and wait until next year for enough color to send your senses reeling.