Shirley Poppies. One of Our Better Weeds

This started out being about garden volunteers, the children of plants with such willing seed you can count on new generations more or less for the life of the garden. But including everything the list turned out to be so huge it was about 2 books worth – plus a whole gigantic sidetrack about invasives.

So then it was just annuals –  flowers and herbs that more or less behave themselves. Then it was annual flowers and herbs that more or less behave themselves in the Northeast.

Then, unable to decide on images, I got it down to larkspur and Shirley poppies. And now, for the sake of brevity:

a volunteer Shirley poppy

a volunteer Shirley poppy.

That flower

and this one

and this one

and this one

and this one

and this one

and this one

are all the progeny of a single packet of ‘Angels Choir’ I planted in the early 80’s to make a border along one side of the main path.

the poppy path, about 6 years in.

the poppy path, about 6 years in.

You perhaps notice a lot of red? The aboriginal Shirley poppy was a chance mutation of Papaver rhoeas, the bright red poppy of Flanders Fields, and although there have been 130 years of dedicated selecting for other colors and forms, when you leave them to their own devices P. rhoeas still raises its lovely head above all the others and would soon take over completely unless actively discouraged.

So I have actively discouraged it — and about 5 years ago changed the border. But the poppies are with us still, all over the garden unless I pull them up. The history below is from the website of Chiltern Seeds, a wonderful source that’s in the UK but will ship if you don’t mind paying.

Looking around for the Reverend’s dates also turned up an outfit called The One Stop Poppy Shoppe. I’ve never stopped there – yet – so can’t vouch for anything except its terrific name and the fact that it claims to have, with 50,  the largest variety of poppy seeds in the world.

The history of Shirley poppies, courtesy Chiltern Seeds:

Originally raised in the 1880’s by the Rev. W. Wilks in his garden in Shirley near Croydon in Surrey, this whole remarkable race comes from one solitary flower he spotted in a waste corner among a patch of the common scarlet Field Poppies which had a very narrow edge of white. Over the coming years he worked on the progeny of this one bloom by a process of selection and elimination to give us the Shirley Poppy we know today ….. Ah! But not quite! When later writing on the subject, he set out what might be said to be the specification for his Poppy. He said, “Let it be noticed that true Shirley Poppies (1) are single, (2) always have a white base with (3) yellow or white stamens, anthers and pollen, (4) never have the smallest particle of black about them. Double Poppies and Poppies with black centres may be greatly admired by some, but they are not Shirley Poppies.” He reflected, as so may we all, that the world’s gardens are furnished with Poppies all the direct descendants of that one single seed capsule harvested in the Shirley Vicarage in 1880…

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1 Comment »

  • Leo Said,

    Small wonder that poppy seeds bounce around the garden — look how they started life — bouncing — in his garden — in Shirley — near Croydon — in Surrey!

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