Papaver: poppy

Height 30-75cm (12-30in)

Planting distance 30-45cm (12-18in)

Flowers early to late summer

Ordinary well-drained soil

Sunny site

Hardy annual and biennial

The simple delicate petals of pop-pies come in such bright colours that few gardeners can resist them. Several species and their varieties are grown in gardens. Some have single flowers with four broad overlapping petals arranged in a characteristic bowl-shape, while others have double flowers – ball-like blooms formed from many petals.

Poppies are suitable for a variety of situations in the garden, though sun is essential.

Popular species

Papaver nudicaule, the Iceland poppy, comes from the sub-Arctic, and is one of the most elegant pop-pies. The slender leafless stems carry white or yellow fragrant flowers in early summer. Only at the base of the 45-75cm (18-30in) high stems is there a rosette of smooth, soft green leaves. This is one of the few poppies suitable for cutting for indoor flower arrange ments. When you cut it, select buds just starting to show colour, and scald the stems in hot water after cutting, to seal the ends.

Numerous garden varieties have been developed from the species, offering a wide range of flower colours: ‘Champagne Bubbles’ has large pink, salmon, apricot, orange, golden-yellow and scarlet flowers, single or bicoloured, and reaches 60cm (2ft) high; ‘Garden Gnome Mixed’ is a compact strain, growing only 30cm (12in) high, with flowers in scarlet, salmon, orange, yellow or white.

Papaver rhoeas, the field poppy, has scarlet-red flowers with black centres from early to late summer, on erect 60cm (2ft) high stems. These are accompanied by pale green deeply lobed leaves. Field poppies look their best grown in large drifts on grassy banks or in a semi-wild grassed area.

Several garden varieties have been developed, the most popular being the ‘Shirley’ strains, with single flowers in white, rose, pink, salmon, orange and red in ‘Shirley Single Mixed’ and similar, but double flowers in ‘Shirley Double Mixed’; both grow to 60cm (2ft) tall. Papaver rhoeas commutatum is a subspecies, with single flowers of crimson with large black blotches. Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy, has large white, red, pink or mauve flowers from early to late summer, followed by bulbous, flat-capped and poisonous seed pods in autumn. The plants reach 75cm (30in) high and carry deeply lobed smooth, pale green leaves.

Several varieties with double flowers are available. ‘Peony Flowered Mixed’ has flowers resembling peonies in a mixture of white, pink or purple; ‘White Cloud’, on 90cm (3ft) tall stems, has extra large white flowers; ‘Danebrog’ has single blood-red flowers prominently marked with white in the centre, and with fringed petals.


Poppies grow in ordinary well-drained soil in a sunny position. Sow biennials (Papaver nudicaule) in the flowering site in early summer. Protect the seedlings with cloches during the winter months and then thin to 30-45cm (12-18in) apart the following spring.

Sow annuals in the flowering site in mid spring, just covering them with soil. Thin to 30cm (1ft) apart. Staking should not be necessary. Dead-head regularly to prevent self-seeding. Try to avoid transplanting.

Pests and diseases

Downy mildew can cause yellow blotches on the leaves. Otherwise trouble free.

22. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Annuals, Biennials, Bulbous Plants, Featured Articles | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Papaver: poppy


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