grow, marvel, eat, laugh, persevere

Friday, March 4, 2011

On the Failure to Grow Poppies

It's like a relationship with a bad boyfriend.  You pour everything you've got into it but he always fails you.  You're sad. Angry.  I am always angry.  You swear you'll never go back.  But then, because you're a sucker who never learns, you give him another chance.  You analyze and rationalize why it didn't work last time, coming up with what seems like perfectly logical reasons.  This time, it'll be different.

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?


  1. I have a friend who is having the same problem. She blamed her husband one year. She says he thought they were weeds and sprayed or pulled them. She blamed the drought another year. I've never been able to grow poppies where I want them. (can't change him.) I put seed out and rain must wash it around because they sprout somewhere slightly different. Those tiny seeds blow around and I find them in the oddest places. (what were you doing at her house?) Good luck. Keep throwing seeds out there. Surely some of them will find a place they like. (so you're moving out.)

  2. I've struggled with poppies too. I've even gone as far as buying expensive (and blooming) plants from the nursery, but they never survive the transplant. I've never had even one seed germinate when I've tried them inside. I was finally successful when I winter sowed them...and one of the seedlings survived the transplant to the garden!! I've had one or two blooms over the last two years. I too get so jealous when I see gardens overflowing with poppy blooms! I have high hopes that my one plant will thrive and spread. I did collect seeds from it last year and will be winter sowing more seeds this year! I'd be happy to send you some of my seeds if you want.


  3. It might be a soil issue...and poppies can look a lot like weeds too. In some ways, to me the weedy looking pre-bloom poppies aren't worth the short lived bloom later on.

  4. I've had successes and failures. Seed sown in November seem to fare well. Seeds need to fall on a rich, prepared surface. On the other hand, there is a little poppy plant in my greenhouse where I used empty poppy heads and other seed pods as a decorative mulch last year. Just keep trying.

    Are you trying to grow breadseed (peony, opium) poppies, corn poppies or California poppies? Except for corn poppies, the seedlings are bluish in color which makes them easier to spot.

  5. I can empathise Gina - I'm trying Himalayan poppies for the second year.

    I admire your determination. If nothing happens this year I'll probably give up. (lack of commitment.)

  6. Maybe I should just sow the seeds for gardeners who have trouble with them. Maybe I can make a career out of this like the lawn guys, but with poppies.

  7. Gina, as you may know, I'm right there with ya on this blue poppy poopy poppy thing. I've tried four times with seeds and even bought three very healthy PLANTS one year, and I managed to kill every last one of those. Maybe someday I'll be able to do it, but so far, not. Another challenge for me is Bells of Ireland. Twice, I've had one column of "bells" but nothing to get too excited about. I think I'll sow 10 packages of seeds this year and see what happens.

  8. Love this post. I've been having trouble growing poppies in the UK. I put "poppies wont grow" into Google and your post was top. At least I'm not alone!