Friday, March 4, 2011
On the Failure to Grow Poppies
Last night I sowed some Blue Himalayan Poppy seeds in coir pellets in the basement under grow lights. This is my 3rd or 4rd try. I have read about the climate they enjoy, cool, damp, partially shaded. (he's not right for you) I have only known Canadians who've successfully grown them. But I am seduced by their blue flower beauty. I'm shamefully obsessed with growing these plants in my garden. At just about any cost. I just want one bloom. One bloom! If I can get one bloom, I'll consider it a success. (it'll be different this time)
I don't know why but I simply cannot grow poppies. It's not just the elusive Blue Himalayan ones, it's regular ole poppies, Oriental ones and California ones. None of them will grow in my garden. I have tried every type of seed sowing I know on every type of poppy that I've ever seen. Indoor under shop lights, winter sowing, direct sow. None of it works. Yet, as I struggle, as my self confidence is destroyed, people all over the place are bragging about how easy they are to grow, posting beautiful pictures of their fields of poppies. (he's just not that into you)
Last year I thought I'd finally found the right method. Mr. Brown Thumb had been telling me for years that he scatters them over one of the last snows of the season, then it snows atop the seeds forcing them down onto the dirt. In spring they just appear, clusters of traffic stopping, hooker attracting poppies. So, during a late February snow I was out in my coat and hat scattering 5 packs of poppy seeds about my garden. I felt foolish. I hoped none of the neighbors was watching. But I just kept reminding myself that in the spring when folks were telling all their friends about it, "hey, did you see that house down the street with all the gorgeous poppies?" how crazy I looked scattering seeds around in the snow wouldn't matter. Out of 5 packs, surely few will come up, I thought.
In spring when things started sprouting you could find me out in the garden every day bent over staring at some little green thing that was starting to emerge from the dirt. They were mostly weeds, but one looked promising, with fragile lacy leaves. That must be it! It must be! It was butted right up against the patio which seemed odd because I thought I'd been careful not to put them too close to it. But yes! This definitely looked like a poppy! I watched it all summer long, ignoring other folks in the garden blogging community bragging about their poppies already blooming as my one lone poppy slowly grew. (he's just running late) By then, I'd even seen an entire bed of deep red ones in my neighbor's yard while peering out my kitchen window. (jealousy, denial)
The poppy looking plant never got more than about 8 inches tall and then it started to spread over onto my brick patio almost like a ground cover or vine and although I remained in denial for a while, when I saw the lovely delegate purple blooms I knew it was some kind of verbena that had volunteered. I was crushed. The verbena was beautiful in its own right, but it was not what I wanted. It just showed up there, accidentally beautiful. Visitors to my garden commented on it. "Wow! What's that? The contrast between the plant and that dark brick is striking!" they'd say. "Meh, it's some verbena. I have no idea where it came from." I'd dismiss. It required nothing from me and stayed beautiful all summer. I admired it but I certainly never marveled at it, I always compared it to the poppy. It didn't measure up.
If you've successfully grown poppies before, what is your secret?