Who doesn’t love poppies? They are the sweetest, simplest flowers, easy to grow and, if they like your garden, will return year after year, as they seed themselves about. Here’s a quick guide to some of Sarah Raven's favourite poppy varieties.
Poppies come in a huge range of rich colours from the purest white, through pastels, pillar box red to the darkest plum with spots, stripes, silks, satins or the laciest of frills. And they all make good cut flowers to bring into the house. If you sear the stem ends in boiling water, they’ll last two or three days in a vase.
Papaver rhoeas – the classic cornfield poppy. I love this poppy self-seeding around the garden and, as one of our native wild flowers, it is key to many of our wildflower meadow mixes. Increasingly there are so many beautiful cultivars of this type, we have a beautiful grey variety called ‘Amazing Grey’ at Perch Hill - they all look so ethereal.
Papaver somniferum - otherwise known as the opium poppy. These come in an assortment of beautiful rich shades - red, crimson, mauve, purple through to dark plum – and they range in fluffiness from open singles to frilly, ruffled doubles. They will self-seed to spread in your garden and be covered in bees as they are full of pollen. They’re absolutely stunning June and July summer flowers. These poppies, in particular, have beautiful seed heads which can be used in dried flower arrangements.
Eschscholzias - these are the Californian poppies. They grow in really arid conditions so they’re incredibly drought resistant which is good with climate change. They come in a wide range of colours; oranges, yellows, creams.
All the annual poppies are best sown where you want them to grow, as they tend to resent root disturbance. So, find a sunny spot with fairly indifferent soil, scratch the surface in spring or autumn and sprinkle the seed on top, raking in gently to settle them in. Poppies like poor soil and lots of sun.
If you have ordered seedlings, make sure you acclimatise them to outdoor conditions before you plant them out. Soak the plants well and then plant out in the border or cutting garden, leaving 20-30cm between plants. Water in well to settle the roots, and only water again in very dry conditions or if you have decided to plant them in containers. Once you have these poppies in your garden you will probably never have to plant them again as they seed themselves and come up in the most delightfully random places.
Papaver nudicaules - Icelandic poppies which are biennial, so you sow them in June and July and they will flower for ages the following year. Fashionable and fabulous as cut flowers, my favourite is ‘Champagne Bubbles’, which comes in a beautiful mix of white, pink, yellow and various tones of orange. Flowering on and off for over six months, with great chiffon cup flowers which last well once cut. I absolutely love it.
You can grow these varieties as strictly short-lived perennials; sowing under cover in February - March for plants that will flower the same year. If you choose the easier biennial route, you can sow direct from June - August and your plants will flower the following year. Alternatively, and easier still, you can order our seedlings to plant out in spring for a summer show or autumn for flowering the following year.
Papaver rupifragum - a perennial oriental poppy which flowers in early June. Beautiful and transient, my favourite is ‘Orange Feathers’, which flowers through all of summer, with papery double-flowers. These poppies can be grown from seed sown undercover in early spring and then planted outdoors. Again, once you have them, they will last forever, both as individual plants and in the form of their offspring that seed themselves about (unless you carefully deadhead them).
Do add poppies to your garden to enjoy their blowsy presence all summer long. Take a look at our full range of poppy seeds or poppy seedlings, including many of my favourite varieties and suggestions for how to plant them. We also have a full guide to growing poppies, covering annuals, biennials and perennials as well as wildflower mixes.
Thank you to Sarah Raven for her wonderful and informative guide to poppies! If you loved this read and want to bring the colours of the meadow into your own home, shop our new Poppy Meadow Collection here!