How to - Gardening Resources

Grow perennial poppies

Add these vibrant crepe-paper petals to your garden

Perennial varieties
A great favourite is the extra-long blooming ‘Helen Elizabeth,' a soft rose-pink with no black dots and slightly ruffled petals. Also popular is ‘Field Marshall,' described by Ruth Atwood of Cruickshank's, a mail-order nursery in Toronto, as "a tasty-looking white with purplish-black markings." For mid- to late-season bloom, consider ‘Maiden's Blush,' with deeply ruffled white flowers and a one-inch (two-centimetre) blush edge. An all-white garden would welcome ‘Snow Queen,' while gardeners looking for magenta might want to try ‘Watermelon,' with its strong, dark pink petals and black markings.

The Iceland poppy (P. croceum syn. nudicaule)—usually grown as a biennial in cold climates, but classified as a short-lived perennial—grows foliage the first year, blooms the second year and then dies. George Pagowski, a horticulturalist at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario, recommends letting some Iceland poppies set seed. That way, they return faithfully every year; thin them slightly in the spring to give them room to grow.

Iceland poppies, which have clumping, compact leaves, grow 10 to 20 inches (25 to 50 centimetres) tall and produce four-inch (10-centimetre) flowers. ‘Popsicle Mix' reaches 10 inches (25 centimetres), while the species grows to 18 inches (45 centimetres). Both offer a variety of colours.

If seed is started early enough, Iceland poppies may bloom the first year. Since this poppy can tolerate transplanting, start it in flates in late January for mild regions, or early March for cold climates. Bloom time usually starts at the end of June, slows during summer heat and, if plants are frequently deadheaded, resumes as fall approaches.

Another perennial that frequently performs as a biennial, or sometimes even as an annual in Canadian conditions, is alpine poppy (P. alpinum). Plants produce grey-green, ground-hugging leaves and satiny-petalled flowers on eight- to 10-inch stems. Look for ‘Alpinum Mix,' which comes in a variety of bright colours and blooms quickly from seed. Alpine poppies prefer light, gritty soil—they're perfect for rock gardens. Sow seed in the garden in early spring or, like the Iceland poppy, start it indoors.

The photo shown is an Oriental poppy

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