Birds, I think, are fond of poppy seeds, and this may be why I never have any poppies.

Other people have poppies (I whine piteously) but I never get any. This year I hope I am on the right track. I only planted the seeds at Thanksgiving, on top of some newly dug earth. The new digging was to accommodate some daffodils that had been sitting about in the garage since June.

The thing I hope for is that the poppy seeds fell down the interstices of the dirt, for I was careful not to bring the surface to too fine a tilth. Thus the birds would have to poke about in the dirt to find a seed, not simply harvest a seed sitting up there on top. Heh-heh-heh.

The birds at my place are so lazy they will not hunt for anything; the woodpeckers and flickers drill holes, but all the rest simply glower about on the branches until the seeds, fruit or suet is put out for them.

The best way to have poppies (as in wheat fields in France) is simply to have them to begin with. Then they seed in such abundance that you have them forever after, provided you dig up the ground once a year.

But suppose you have a nice stand of Shirley poppies or other kinds that grow readily from seed. There are so many seed pods you think ha, now I've got 'em and won't ever have to plant again. And this is true, as long as the earth is disturbed every year or two, but there comes a time the earth is undisturbed for a couple of years and presto, the poppies vanish.

You can't believe it. There were hundreds of them, and now not one. I am not sure just how this works, because poppies love to seed themselves into gravel, or between stones, and the earth is certainly not disturbed there.

A friend of mine used to grow opium poppies between big clumps of irises, but they died out except between the stone blocks used for edging the beds, and this rather defeated the plan.

It is interesting that poppies, like many another garden creature, will come up where it was never intended for them to grow. Indeed, this phenomenon sheds light on two kinds of gardeners -- those who say they always put themselves in just the right places, and those who notice they never do. It makes for happier gardening if one is the first sort, who thinks every volunteer has sprouted up precisely where it looks best.

Oriental poppies are not usually planted from seed, but by root divisions. I have grown Oriental poppies off and on for a half-century now and never yet had a good clump. That is because it takes them a couple of years to settle in good, and before that time I have thought it well to plant something else "so it will flop over and conceal the bare spot when the poppies die down."

Since I am never quite certain just where the Oriental poppy was, I usually plant things on top of it. My Oriental poppies always stagger into bloom, eventually, but they do not like being smothered and soon give up. There is a clear orange Oriental poppy, however, that I have often noticed, that seems slightly more vigorous than a dandelion, and possibly that is the one I should try.

A poppy relative I am fond of is Macleya cordata, formerly called Bocconia cordata, the plume poppy. There are supposed to be two forms of this in cultivation, one that runs all over the place and one that just makes clumps. The one I have is supposed to sit there in great dignity, but I began to lose faith in its nonexpansionist attitude the year it burrowed underground six feet and came up on the other side of the walk.

Nothing is easier, of course, than to chop it out if it comes up in the wrong place in April. Except, of course, it is clever at surfacing in a new clump of irises, that one does not wish to disturb, or a quarter-inch from a rather fragile clematis. In these cases one cannot whack freely, and must simply slice off the crown of the plume poppy, and it will make several efforts at survival before giving up.

Naturally, having performed surgery twice, one then forgets about it and within a few weeks the plume poppy has reared itself six feet high and is handsome, and the clematis has bid a long good night. This has happened to me twice.

The point of the plume poppy is its superb leaf, about the size of a cantaloupe (only flat, naturally) with indentations like a mitten for a giant. The flowers, in a kind of plume, are agreeable though not showy, but the reason to grow it is that it makes a 6-foot-by 5-foot mound of glaucous leaves. When well sited it is a dramatic plant, utterly foolproof.

I have had to dig out all the ones I sited carefully for drama, since they started choking out miniature daffodils, irises, roses and almost did in a good-sized dwarf plum tree. But the plant is so handsome I settled it between a ravenous maple and a fence. There it can grow up to eight feet if it pleases and run as it likes. Being somewhat hidden, however, it hardly fulfils its role as a plant of high drama, rising above the plain of lesser vegetation.

It is an important art to do one thing at a time and do it well. In a garden it means deciding that here we shall have this, and there we shall have that, and then allowing the necessary space and care for everything to do well in its season. It is an art I no longer hope to master.