Oriental Poppy – Papavar orientale

by Gini Sage

Oriental Poppies are one of the most brilliant herbaceous perennials to grace the early summer garden, blooming during the month of June. The flowers, which appear to be made of crepe paper, can be 6 inches across, on stems usually 2 ½ – 3 feet high, although some varieties are more compact.

The colours of Oriental poppies range from silvery white to rose/pink, peach, salmon and crimson. Plant the poppies to draw the viewer’s eye around the garden, pulling it from one place to another. Red poppies combine well with blue, yellow or dark green backdrops. Pink and white poppies may be mixed with iris for a good colour combination. Plant pastel coloured poppies with asters, phloxes or delphiniums. These flowers provide a beautiful backdrop, and once the hairy, fern-like leaves of the poppies turn brown in early summer and disappear completely, they move in to the area that is left when the poppy goes into dormancy. This ensures that your garden blooms continually.

Oriental poppies are easy to grow and require a limited amount of care as long as they are planted in any area that has rich, loamy soil and full sun. Prepare the soil to a depth of 1 ½ to 2 feet and space plants 15 to 18 inches apart. Spread the roots down and out, over a hill in the centre of the hole, and cover the crown of the plant with 3 inches of soil – deeper than you would plant most perennials. They require very little water; however, if spring is unusually dry, water them occasionally. When Oriental poppies reach the dormant stage, they require no water. They seem to thrive when their roots are baking under the hot, summer sun. In the fall, the plants will show some signs of growth, which is the best time to divide them. To divide poppies, cut a piece of root approximately 2 inches in length and plant in sandy soil. Or, they may be started from seeds; however, the seed must be exposed to frost to germinate.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, June 2007