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Papaver rhoeas – Corn Poppy, or Flanders Field Poppy

Think -Claude Monet, Camille Corot or red Flanders poppies in the vintage travel posters of France, Italy and Spain. These lovely wind poppies of the meadows and farm fields of Europe are familiar to everyone. Now found in wild-flower seed mixes in the US, this is truly a European wild flower, often seen in grass fields throughout much of Europe. In the home garden, like many poppies,  P. rhoeas are best is sown in situ, and carefully thinned to about 4 inches apart. But these are odd plants, ones which require grass or neighbors close by to help hold them erect.  In Europe. these were once frequently seen in wheat fields but with the introduction and popular use of herbicides like Round-Up, they are becoming a rare site.

This is the poppy that after WWI, was often seen represented as little red crepe paper flowers to commemorate Memorial Day, and the red seen in the battlefields. The legend is that after the war, the battle fields were red with corn poppies, due to the fact that heavy artillery had disturbed seed hidden deep in the soil, where it laid dormant for years. Seed can be sown in autumn in mild areas, or in early spring. Not as impressive as Opium poppies, these are best used in mixed planting, often in rock gardens, or in patched in a perennial border. Results are rarely what you imagine them to be, unless you live in the North West, or in cool, northern states, most every poppy beyond Oriental Poppies or P. somniferum, will sulk.Flanders poppies are best grown by scattering seed thinly over a turned bed. While the plants can look a little weedy when growing, they make up for it in spring with their gorgeous offering of scarlet petals, each painted with a black blotch on its base. The seedpods produce seed aplenty, but germination is erratic unless you have a cold winter which promotes germination. In warm areas, collect the seed and store it in an airtight container. In February/March, refrigerate the seed for a month before sowing.

Shirley Poppy

Bred from the P. rhoeas above, the story goes like this – In 1889, Reverend W. Wilkes discovered an odd single specimen in a field of red and black Flanders Poppies growing in a village in England named Shirley –  he found a blossom with a  white center, which he carefully bred through selection into a fantastic color mix with pastels and brights. Coral, pink, raspberry, peach, grey and ivory poppies were soon available. Then, double forms appeared and the rest is history.
They are good companions for tall growing bulbs like Dutch irises or tall perennials and annuals.
Cedric Morris also played around with P. rhoeas which resulted in a very nice strain now sold as Papaver ‘Sir Cedric Morris’. With a palette built out of the palest colors, this strain is still available in many seed catalogs, but I can never seem to find it, as it is often sold out. This is THE strain for strange yet lovely smokey greys, muddy mauve and grayish lavender. A strain that can almost substitute for this hard to find mix, is ‘Mother of Pearl’.If you re lucky, these will self sow, but that is a rare occurrence in my garden, so I sow late in the autumn if I can remember to order the seed early in the spring and hold on to it!

Grown for nearly 100 years in gardens, this species was discovered in 1876 by William Thompson, one of the original founders of the British seed company Tompson & Morgan.  If you love red poppies, this is the reddest. Native to Iran, Turkey and Russia, this poppy so closely resembles P. rhoeas, the Flanders poppy, that many people confuse the two. Most gardeners dislike red poppies in typical borders and plantings, but prefer them in meadow mixes, with spots of red dot a grassy meadow, which is indeed where these often loom most natural. Not very hardy, even though this poppy comes from cold areas, this is best grown in cooler areas with mild winters.c



  • All poppies need is well-drained soil and plenty of sun.
  • Look out for snails when the plants are small.
  • Poppies love gardeners who pick for the vase – the more you pick them, the more they flower. If you don’t pick the blooms it’s essential that you deadhead the spent blooms to keep them flowering.

TOP TIP: Pick them as soon as you see a blush of colour in the unopened bud

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