'Hungarian blue' breadseed poppy. Photo credit; Bill Pusztai

Summer has finally arrived in Seattle, beginning as it always does on July 5th. I therefore didn’t take much convincing when my husband suggested a day out. Even less so when he suggested we visited some of my favorite nurseries on the Kitsap peninsula!

Sunscreen, camera and a large tarp were loaded in no time. (Actually I always keep a large tarp in the car for those chance encounters with a tree or two. Rather like others keep Kleenex handy in case of a sneeze – I keep a tarp ready in case of plants.)

'Tasmania' offers pure white petals with a delicate lavender thumbprint

First stop was Dragonfly Farms Nursery in Kingston, an eclectic treasure trove where you’ll find anything from a really unusual plant to a totally funky art piece. The only thing that never surprises me is the owner Heidi Kaster who is always smiling and excited to show me her latest discoveries and creations. It was in one of her display gardens that I had the inspiration for this post. Splashes of hot pink and bright red drew me down to a border in the distance which on closer inspection turned out to be a wonderful haphazard self-sown abundance of annual opium poppies also known as breadseed poppies (Papaver somniferum).

My only real success with annual poppies has been by accident. I noticed a seedling growing in our vegetable garden last year; even my son could tell it wasn’t a cabbage. It was in a most inconvenient place but curiosity got the better of me so I let it grow. In no time at all huge feathered petals with brazen red and white markings reached for the sky like a gaudy parrot. A poppy with serious attitude!

Parrot meets poppy - my rogue seedling discovered in the vegetable garden

 

In the past when I’ve tried to grow opium poppies from seed I think I must have trampled on them or inadvertently weeded out the seedlings having forgotten where they were. Yet as I looked at Heidi’s poppies all sorts of fun plant combinations started coming to mind. What about a mass of the lilac/pink poppies in front of a black lace elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’)? The color of the papery poppy petals would echo that of the elderberry flowers while the darker poppy throat would repeat the color of the shrub foliage itself.

A haze of bronze fennel created the backdrop for these poppies. I suspect this was the 'Lauren's grape' hybrid

A few miles down the road we stopped to photograph plum colored poppies which were planted against a feathery curtain of bronze fennel and looked stunning. To one side my favorite smoke bush ‘Grace’ (Cotinus coggygria) had been added to make a sultry trio. I would be tempted to add some silver wormwood (Artemisia sp.) into the mix to prevent sultry turning somber but if ever a poppy could look sexy, this one did.

The lavender fields are getting ready for their Provencal display so we decided to pull in and visit one of the farms near Sequim before the crowds descend. Among the billowing mounds of blue was a proud stand of bright red poppies. I was torn between thinking they spoiled the uniformity of the lavender and enjoying their rebelliousness! Maybe they just needed a companion planting of white daisies to make a patriotic statement?

An infiltrator or a planned partnership?

It’s too late to sow seeds this year but it’s never too late to dream. As you visit gardens and nurseries this summer start to photograph these inspirational moments and jot down a few notes on how you might incorporate them into your garden next season.

For me this also means deciding how I’m going to avoid weeding them out AGAIN! A single stick obviously hasn’t worked so perhaps a series of fluorescent sticks crisscrossed with string? Has anyone got any better ideas to share?

Try mixing 'Lauren's grape' poppy with lupins and phlox for an old fashioned medley. Photo credit; Annie's Annuals

 

Cultivation details

Choose a spot in full sun with well-drained soil. Scatter seed thinly onto the soil in early spring. Water in well but do not cover the seed. Use slug bait (maybe that’s what I forgot?) Thin seedlings as directed. (Poppies are deer  resistant!)

Resources

Annie’s annuals

One Stop Poppy Shoppe

Renee’s gardens

 

Oh and in case you’re wondering, yes I did come back with a few plants – or six!

 

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