Plants - Annuals

Poppy power

Few plants are more seductive than the spunky poppy. And there's one for every garden.

Whatever planting method you use, thin seedlings to about three inches (seven centimetres) apart. This gives the plants room to grow, but also allows them to support each other. Allow some plants to develop seedheads; they'll reseed and you'll have annual poppies faithfully appearing in the garden for years.

Annual varieties
The corn or field poppy (Papaver rhoeas), immortalized in Flanders during World War I, grows to 18 inches (45 centimetres) and produces a black-centered scarlet flower. A strain of the species in the two-food (60 centimetre) Shirley Series; single and double flowers are two or three inches (five to eight centimetres) across and come in white, pink, orange and red. Sometimes the petals fade to white at their base. More delicate looking is ‘Mother of Pearl,' sometimes listed as ‘Fairy Wings,' which produces pastel blush-pink, lavender and peach blooms. The striking ‘Danish Flag,' sometimes sold as ‘Danebrog Laced,' grows to 24 inches (60 centimetres); it has a frilly, single scarlet cup with a vividly marked white blotch in the middle.

Smaller than the Shirley is the tulip poppy (P. glaucum), which produces large, four- or five-inch (10- to 13-centimetre) scarlet blooms on 18-inch (45-centimetre) plants. The petals stay semi-erect, which makes them look like giant tulips.

Another annual, the opium poppy (P. somniferum), is often grown for its seed pods, striking in dried-flower arrangements. Its large, early summer flowers are complimented by deeply lobed green leaves tinged with grey. The largest of all the opium varieties is ‘Hen and Chickens,' which can reach five feet (2.5 metres) and produce flowers as large as five or six inches (13 to 15 centimetres) in diameter, in colours ranging from pinks and reds through purples. Slightly shorter, with smaller blooms, is ‘Peony Flowered,' while ‘White Cloud' produces double white flowers.

Opium poppies and the law
Growing opium poppies in your backyard isn't likely to get you in trouble with the law—but it could. You may be growing them for their blooms, but under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, it's illegal. Bonnie Fox McIntyre, a spokesperson for Health Canada, says that under the act, which came into effect in May 1997, anyone found growing this plant could get "a term not exceeding 10 years." The reason? The seed pods yield a milky sap that, once it dries, darkens and turns gummy, is opium. A precipitating agent pressed into the opium turns it into morphine; treated with acetic anhydride, it becomes powdered heroin.

RCMP Staff Sergeant Pat Convey, in charge of the Vancouver Island Drug Section, says he's never seem opium poppies grown in Canada for the illegal drug trade. "If we do come across plantings of opium poppies we let people know, and they are usually quick to tear them out," he says. So, while home gardens are rarely, if ever, raided, it's probably advisable not to plant your whole yard with them.

While the law is there to be enforced, Convey says there are other illegal plants that are more important to eradicate.

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