Garden log, 2.4.16

Planted poppy seeds today, only four months late. Papaver orientale ‘Brilliant’ in the hot border; Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’ in the blue slope and on either side of the climbing rose ‘Generous Gardener’ in the back. P. somniferum ‘Hungarian blue breadseed’ in the bed by the front walk, except for one more patch of ‘Lauren’s Grape’ closest to the acanthus.

Also planted two P. orientale ‘Allegro’ transplants in the hot border a few weeks ago.

 

The secret to growing poppies

If you read much gardening literature, you’ll eventually come across some plant for which the consensus seems to be that anyone can grow it, it’s totally foolproof, and yet you, no matter how hard you try, cannot get the job done.

For me, for the longest time, it was poppies.

Oriental Poppies, by Greenlamplady (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I love poppies (Papaver sp., mostly). Their delicate petals and vibrant colors fill me with longing. Everything I read promised they were easy to grow. I even read about a local woman who bought a sackful of breadseed poppy seeds from the bulk bin at the local market and threw them out into her garden, and next year her side yard looked like Giverny.

Claude Monet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Poppy Field in Argenteuil, by Claude Monet. {{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the US.

I tried the same technique and discovered that lady must be holding something back. I tried different varieties–Oriental poppies (P. orientale), breadseed (P. somniferum), Welsh poppies (Meconopsis cambrica), California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas), Icelandic poppies (Papaver nudicaule)–everything except the holy grail of poppies, the Himalayan blue, which, let’s face it, I wasn’t ready for. I tried direct seeding in fall, in spring, I tried transplanting–failure after failure. Some sources said they needed rich soil. I provided rich soil; nothing happened. Some sources said they grow in very poor soil. I began to despair.

By Photo by and (c)2008 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man). Co-attribution must be given to the Chanticleer Garden. (Self-photographed) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Himalayan blue poppy, photographed at Chanticleer Garden, Wayne PA, USA. Photo by and (c)2008 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man). Co-attribution must be given to the Chanticleer Garden. (Self-photographed) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

Last year, a gardening friend, Catherine, shared her secret:

How to grow poppies from seed

  1. Find your sunny spot where you want your poppies to grow, and lay out a bed of compost about 1-2″ thick.
  2. Smooth it over a bit with the back of the rake.
  3. Scatter your poppy seeds in the compost.
  4. Tamp them in gently with the back of the rake.
  5. Walk away.

They don’t need watering, except what Mother Nature will bring.

Well, Catherine did not fail me. Barring a tornado, hurricane, or direct lightning strike to the spot, I am about to witness the bloom of my first poppy ever.

poppy bud

I don’t know what it’s going to be. I’ve scattered in Hungarian blue breadseed poppies, ‘Lauren’s Grape,’ and a locally sourced mix of pinks, purples, and whites.

Timing your seeding seems to be very important as well. These were sown about the first week of November. I sowed some more in December and those are coming along, but are quite small. Perhaps the advent of summer tropical weather will hasten their growth.

I tell you, I’m anticipating this flower like the British press anticipated the first peek at Princess Charlotte. It will probably suffer sunburn from camera flashes once it does appear.

Hurrah!

Garden log, 1.23.15

Yesterday I planted seeds of Papaver somniferum (Hungarian blue breadseed) and Papaver ‘Lauren’s Grape,’ as well as larkspur (Delphinium ajacis) ‘Apple Blossom’ and ‘Pink Queen.’ The breadseed poppy is perennial, but the others are annuals.

Larkspur ‘Apple Blossom’ (Delphinium ajacis ‘Apple Blossom’). Photo by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Papaver ‘Lauren’s Grape.’ Photo by Annie’s Annuals.

I plan to include more self-seeding annuals in my garden this year, though I’m afraid it’s late to be planting poppies in Zone 7b. Perhaps they’ll get a decent zap of cold in February and take hold by early summer. I’ve never had much luck with poppies, but last fall a friend shared her planting technique with me and so far, things seem to be working:

How to Plant Ornamental Poppies

  • Spread a layer of compost 1-2 inches deep over the area where you wish to plant. Smooth the compost with the back of a rake.
  • Scatter the seeds over the compost.
  • Use the head of the rake to tamp the seeds gently but firmly into the compost.
  • Leave them alone. Don’t water; don’t cover.

The seeds are tiny and need light to germinate. In the past, I didn’t plant them in compost, or sometimes I’d forget where I planted them and would mulch them over with shredded leaves. The ones I planted in November have germinated and their cotyledons hover just above the compost. They’re quite tough, having survived heavy rain and some wild temperature fluctuations so far.

I also, against good advice, transplanted some crocuses just before they burst into bloom. Crocuses are tough; they’ll get over it. Some tasks you just have to tackle when you have the time.

(c) 2013 AWH/MissingHenryMitchell

The garden could easily be mistaken for a mud-wrestling pit these days, thanks to  frequent rains and plagues of squirrels that dig up my unfrozen ground to hide their found treasures. I wonder why the squirrels haven’t dug up the poppy seedlings (yet?).

Spring fever, tempered: Two plants to sow outdoors now

It’s still too cold and wet here in Zone 7 to do any real seed-sowing, but there are two plants that don’t mind terribly: poppies and peas.

papaver 'coral reef'

Papaver ‘Coral Reef’ by daylily970 on DavesGarden.com.

Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) don’t mind freeze-thaw cycles, and they much prefer to be directly sown than transplanted. I’ve tried them before, several times, with no success whatever. I sowed a few seeds of Papaver ‘Coral Reef’ today in the new beds adjacent to the house addition; I’ll sow a few more in perhaps a week or two, and try a few indoors in peat pots. Perhaps this time I will find some luck.

Oriental poppies like rich soil, slightly on the alkaline side. The seeds need light to germinate, so I didn’t cover them. Instead, they’re sitting atop a layer of moist compost. The beds in which I have sown them have been amended with lime to bring them close to neutral. If I see any promising seedlings, I may scratch in a bit of extra lime around their perimeter.

These plants are related to Papaver somniferum, from which opiates (and culinary poppy seeds) are derived, but the Oriental poppies don’t have these compounds.

The other plant I can sow outdoors right now, despite the weather, is peas.

sugar snap peas

I love sugar snap peas. I have never grown them using inoculant, but I am this year. If you’re new to growing peas, inoculant is a powder containing millions, perhaps billions, of Rhizobium bacteria that promote nitrogen fixation in legumes (peas and beans). The powder is moistened, then used to coat the seeds prior to sowing. It’s also possible to mix the inoculant directly into the soil.

I’m going to try two methods of sowing for my peas: direct sowing, and paper-towel germination. Like poppies, peas don’t care much for transplantation, but cold, wet soil can encourage the seeds to rot. I’ll try germinating some of the seeds in damp paper towels, and then plant them out once the radicle has emerged. Theoretically, not enough growth will have occurred to induce transplant shock, but the seeds will have avoided rotting.

Hang in there, fellow gardeners. If the groundhog is right, we have only five weeks of bad weather remaining. How bad can it get?