POPPIES LIKE full sun, plenty of room to spread out and a nice sandy loam with a reasonable amount of humus in it.
You will see, therefore, they are not ideally suited to heavy acid clay overhung with a virtual forest canopy. If the gardener possesses the usual dank shady strip so common to this capital, with the acid soil laced with maple roots, then the poppy will be of no help whatever.
If people wish to live in a forest, there is no reason they shouldn't, and I believe it took millions of years for certain apes to move from a forest darkness into the light, so I do not except the human fordness for dense shade to alter any time soon in favor of sunlight.
Those who garden in shade should visit any woodland where they may see ferns, hepaticas, etc., and this sort of growth can be quite pleasant in a city garden.
Such exotics as pieris, skimmia, many azaleas and rhododendrons and various Asian maples can be added, along with a carpet of small bulbs to bloom in late winter. Such a garden, especially if contrasted with stone, brick, hewn wood and a good-sized pool, if possible, can be beautiful.
It is just at this point - having achieved a delightful woodland glade - that the gardener decides he wants roses, peonies, irises, daylilies, chrysanthemums and poppies.
It will save time and confusion all 'round to say the gardener cannot have everything, and where there are fine oaks and maples and elms the gardener may as well dismiss the chief garden flowers from his mind and not waste effort and money trying to make them grow.
I saw an exhibit called Vegetables for Shade, and I have seen many articles title "You Can Have Flowers in Shade," and when you get down to it they all boil down to this: You cannot.
Of course, if you want to call a spot that gets 5 1/2 hours sun a day a shady spot (and the duplicity of some garden writers is breathtaking) then of course you can grow a great deal in the "shade," including many flowers that require full sun.
But the poppies, to get back to them, are not going to live in a thicket of laurel underneath some oaks even if, at 6.10 p.m. on June 20, you get a shaft of sunlight.
The Oriental poppy, which I have never been able to resist, is a perennial that requires not only sun but also the space of a bushel basket (or larger) to flop about in. It is a glory of bloom for perhaps three weeks in May-June, at which time its silky cups, six or eight inches in diameter and borne on hairy stems two to four feet high, are as spectacular as anything in the garden.
The best ones are red. I have some call 'Prince of Orange,' which are orange, and I trot out to admire them extravagantly, and there are plenty of rose or water-melon-colored sorts, and some whites that are not terribly pure white, and all of them are dazzling enough, but the crimson reds seem to me the handsomest.
It is hard to believe that a plant as complacent and opulent as the Oriental poppy in full bloom can be miffy. But it often takes them three years to settle down in the garden. The first year they often do not bloom at all, and the second year not much.
During this period in which the poppy is getting itself entrenched the gardener will be sorely tempted to stick in a few other things - a peony here, a redwood there - since the poppy is not occupying as much room as the gardener thought.
No. And it never will, either, if we start plopping in others plants over it.
We all understand the merits of simplicity and boldness, but few gardeners can be trusted to give the poppy a 30-inch circle. Period.
Once the poppy is really established,however, it is fairly tenacious. It is a commonplace of life that no sooner does the gardener get his Oriental poppy blazing along like a California canyon than he decides it would look better somewhere else, and moves it.
Often it fails to move and the transplanted creature dies, but a whole tribe of poppies shoots up in the old spot, having grown from fragments of the old root.
Some of the best displays of this poppy are in gardens where the good husbandman keeps digging up his plants to put them somewhere else, and every year he does this, more grow from roots he has missed.
This poppy starts to die down as soon as it finishes blooming for the year, taking several weeks to retire. In the usual hurly-burly life of the average sunny garden, I do not think the withering and temporary disappearance of the Oriental poppy in June-July is as ugly as some say it is.
I would not, however, plant an Oriental poppy against the Venus of Milo or all along the edge of your marble basin full of comet-tailed shubunkins, where the poppy's ripening (withering) and the resultant bare space would be an eyesore. But among peonies, box bushed, roses, daylilies and the like the poppy's retirement will hardly be detected.
It is best planted from dormant roots in the month of August. Most gardeners are in no mood for planting anything in August, and wait until spring, ordering poppies in April and setting them out when the plants are in full growth.
The poppy, which does not like being transplanted in the first place, reacts often by outright or, more commonly, by sulking for an extra year. Plant them, therefore, in August or September if you can.
They make a growth of leaves in the fall, then die down during the winter, shooting up with vigor in April and dying down again in June.
Where there is space for them they provide an air of unstudied fatness and richness that no other late-spring flower provides, not even the peony. If there are sunny bays between shrub roses, the Oriental poppy will quite overwhelm the gardener in late May. I need hardly point out that the fiery colors and enormous size of the blooms do not do a great deal for the effect of tall irises, which have soft colors. But one or two of these poppies-not too many-will clash well even with pink roses, so one should not be too timid.
The field poppy, a splendid weed of grain fields in Europe and known to us for its association with Armstice Day, is an annual. Some succeed with it as readily as cornflowers, and in the same sort of sunny spot, and it can be planted (from seed) in late summer, fall or in February, where it is to bloom. I have planted it at various times without any success, probably because I got busy and did several other things with the land before the popies got going.
The Shirley poppy is a garden strain that specializes in clear pastels. My Aunt Marie used to fling Shirley poppy seeds along the south side of a shed attached to her garage and they always did well there. She used them for cutting and never saw them except when she went round to gather a bunch. They would be nice in a narrow strip outside the fence in the alley itself, if sun permitted, since often the soil there is gritty.
The Iceland poppies are perennial, usually treated as biennials, planting in August for bloom the next May. These come in soft bright yellows and oranges.
The opium poppy is most often seen in a sort of dusty rose inclining to lavender. It grows to four feet where happy. Often it is troublesome to start, but once it flowers and seeds, it may be around for years without further planting. It likes to come up between stones or at the edge of a lawn and in a grand variety of places the gardener does not want it. Usually a few can be left,anyway, even in unlikely spots, where they present an air of inspired carelessness. This poppy is either single, like a teacup nodding on its stem, or double, as double as a peony.
It is handsome long before it blooms, with its nodding buds, and the seed pods that follow are also beautiful and ingenious little architectural follies.
The main reason we do not see more poppies, even in sunny cottage-type gardens, is simply that we think of them in the spring, which is too late to plant either seeds or roots. Let us think of them now, the correct time, and prepare a small bed - or a large one - that can be very lightly scratched in August and the seed sown.
The seeds are sown almost on top of the soil. Just barely covered. When they behave well, as they sometimes do, nothing is more silky, bright, innocent, brave or festive in the early summer.