Ordering Seeds

It’s that time of year again: every morning I look at the mirror, sternly, and say “ Leslie, you cannot grow everything.” Everything meaning vegetables and annual flowers. Even I know I can’t do much about my fantasies in the tree and shrub department.

Sitting cuddled up with a big pile of catalogs and a ballpoint (felt tips bleed through) is one of the best cheap thrills going, and buying way too many seeds isn’t all that much more expensive, at least compared to the trouble you can get into at an outfit like forestfarm. But this is not about that, it’s about remembering to leave room for the seeds that plant themselves.

shirley poppies and alyssum

Although all colors of alyssum self-sow, white is not only the most prolific but also the most fragrant. The poppies are not fragrant, just about their only flaw.

The alyssum is a never fail; vast numbers of the tiny seedlings always manage to survive no matter how often you disturb the soil to plant something larger and flashier.

The poppies have been addressed here before, in Shirley Poppies, One of Our Better Weeds, but it never hurts to praise the niftiest thing about them: they’re noteworthily promiscuous, cross breeding over and over so each is different from the rest. Every spring morning brings beautiful surprises.

Including many variations that are not Shirley poppies, according to Reverend William Wilks, who gets to be definite about it because he’s the one who developed and named them, back in the 1880’s. By the Reverend’s definition: Shirley Poppies

(1) are single,

triple pinkish Papaver rhoeas

not like this one

(2) always have a white base

single P. rhoeas red heart

not like this one

with (3) yellow or white stamens, anthers and pollen,

white poppy (p. rhoeas) blue pistils red stamen

definitely not like this one


(4) never have the smallest particle of black.

p. rhoeas poppy purple with blotch

on account of black takes us back toward the original, the poppy that grew in Flanders fields when all those graves disturbed the soil and liberated the seeds.

The original species, Papaver rhoeas, is bright red, with that big black blotch. Reverend Wilks started out with one that had a fine white piccottee edge

p. rhoeas poppy red with white edge

kind of like this, but with the blotch

and that’s why all the lovely variations that would give the Reverend fits should never be called Shirley poppies, although they are more or less all the time, including ( as you may have noticed) by me.

The ancestor of my weeds was a packet of Angels Choir, bought from Thompson and Morgan about 25 years ago, before everybody and their brother was carrying the seeds.

Everybody and their brother still doesn’t offer the wide range of old fashioned annuals found at Select Seeds, however, so if you don’t have a poppy growing friend to provide you with the necessary…

(Rhoeas is pronounced row-ays, should you for some reason want to be botanical about it. Otherwise, corn poppy and field poppy are equally acceptable.)

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  • Susan Scheid Said,

    So lovely to see and think about these poppies. We’ve not yet been able to get any started in our yard. Perhaps that can change this year. You provide inspiration!

    Thanks, Susan, I’m so glad to hear you’re feeling inspired. Now you inspire ME to say a bit more about how to plant and grow them. Conditions in Maine are so ideal I forget that not everyone has sandy soil and cool growing conditions.
    Corn poppies aren’t too fussy about the soil; as long as it isn’t soggy they can cope. But heat they hate, so for the first year – when you’re planting them instead of them planting themselves – it’s essential to plant early. Like now, for instance. If you have a flat place to plant them so melting snow doesn’t wash them away, just sprinkle the seeds sparingly on top and sprinkle some snow on top of that, so the birds don’t thwart your efforts.
    Oh dear, running on. More on snow sowing soon.

  • Why is it that any person who even has a light green thumb get all doe eyed at purchasing acquiring seeds? I just ordered some heirloom packages and I am just giddy with excitement waiting for them to come to me. As I am switching my gardening efforts to a more self-suffecient theme.

    I remember practically drooling over the peppers, lettuce, and the numerous beans available.

    Loving your blog BTW. Is wonderful to have met and read your blog/magazine.

    Welcome Michelle
    and thanks for the pats. Can’t answer your question about why it is that anyone who even has a light green thumb… seeds are such a blooming miracle I think even the black thumbed among us ( not that there really is such a thing) can’t help getting excited at the mere thought. Where did you order your seeds? I hope they do well for you!

  • There’s nothing like poppy blossoms to make the seed orderer drool and pine over spring planting. Your photos are awesome!
    Have you seen the Heritage variety Papaver somniferum “Afghani Izmir”? Stunning to grow! I make them last all year through photography: poppyemporium.com

    Welcome Stephanie,
    and right back atcha in the photo department. Not as many on your site as this poppy lover would love to see. Are you planning to post more?

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