Poppies for Memories


Since I moved to Idaho, my sister and mom and their friends and my friends have been generously donating plants to fill my new garden beds. (Gardeners are the nicest people.) This week, I’m transplanting poppies from my sister.

A gardener’s wealth measured in gifts of potted transplants.

I’m planting them in areas that I smothered with leaves about 5 months ago. Most of the lawn grass has died under thickly covered areas (say, 8 to 12 inches of leaves), but some spikes or clumps of grasses are emerging here and there. As I dig into the soil underneath, I am finding many, many worms of different sizes, and the soil is rich, dark, and crumbly.

I had no luck with poppies in my previous garden’s heavy clay; this soil obviously agrees with them, as they are perking up surprisingly quickly after transplanting.

I’m greedily anticipating vivid splashes of color that will appear around my property in mid-May. That’s when my sister’s front yard is bathed in a blanket of bright orange-red blooms; the poppies form a hardy, easy-care understory for her mature trees. (She used to have a lot of poppies in the back yard as well, but her chickens ate them up like candy.)

My sister’s front yard poppies abloom.
See their friendly faces.

I like that these plants are both hardy and friendly, with their large open faces, their fuzzy texture, and their bright petals like the ruffled skirts of Spanish dancers. They also offer a dash of mystique with their connection to opium dens and the subtly menacing field of poppies in the Wizard of Oz (though mine are a different species). Another unusual and interesting feature is how quickly the buds open, some within a day, like a time-lapse video happening in your own yard. The process is graceful too: the stems uncurl, they drop their outer cases, then the petals unfold like butterflies.

Poppy buds add high drama to the garden.

Not only do they carry a connection to my sister, they also remind me of my garden pals in Charlotte, North Carolina. I met this dear group of gardeners when I walked up to a table at one of their gardens on my first Garden Open Day. I had decided to visit the southeast and photograph some gardens there for my book Beautiful No-Mow Yards. What better way to find private gardens than to visit them during the days they are open to the public through this splendid nationwide program of the Garden Conservancy?

When I registered at the first garden, I mentioned that I had traveled all the way from Minnesota, and these gracious gardeners lined up several more gardens for me to tour. A couple of them are featured in the book, and another, a front yard cottage/stroll garden brimming with poppies, is spotlighted in my forthcoming book Hellstrip Gardening.

Early morning poppy scene in a friend’s Charlotte garden.

Funny how a certain plant species can become a thread running through a person’s life, stitching together different relationships and memories.


    • Yes, Susan, that is so fun! And I know those plants will thrive; then I can experiment with more questionable ones (like my new little Black Mission Fig that I may try to establish in a sheltered area of the courtyard) but still enjoy some reliable growers as well.

      You may not get the poppies, but I do envy you being able to choose from so many different broadleaf evergreens.

  1. I remember one of the first flowers I grew in my garden was the poppy seeds that were given me, most likely those beautiful opiate relatives. They have long since faded away replaced by the many available perennial varieties like “Fruit Punch”, “Pizzicato” and “Giant Red” There is lots of colors to choose from. I am envious you are digging in the garden already. I had no idea Idaho could be so much warmer than NY state! Lucky you!

    • Yes, Amanda, I do feel somewhat guilty glorying in the dirt this early when so many folks are still suffering through the dark, cold winter. But there are signs of spring everywhere by now, right? Even if it is just the early yellow-green of the willow tips, or the darkening of the red stems of red-twig dogwood.

  2. Poppies always seem to instill and contain the warmest memories. I bought several varieties of the hardy Orientals last year and look forward to their blooms whenever it warms up. And they welcome the harshest conditions, as long as they have sun. Thanks for the post!

    • Carolyn, thank you for that sweet wish. Yes, poppies are such a happy subject, aren’t they? Some of them almost seem to have faces, like pansies. I went back and browsed through your art photos; love those impressionist scenes featuring bright, cheery red poppies.

  3. Wonderful article, Ev. I treasure the poppies I’ve received from friends and the volunteer seeds that blow in wild and free, popping up to surprise me each spring with their glorious “skirts” of color. I loved that description…”Ruffled skirts of Spanish dancers!”

  4. Aren’t they pretty!! Used to have a planting area in front filled with poppies just like the Orangeish ones but had to leave them when we moved. My nieces will help me get some reestablished in our new place though as soon as we can get a place ready.

    Great writeup Evelyn!!

  5. When I moved into my neighborhood 34 years ago, I would take a morning walk. I passed an elderly woman with a curmudgenly reputation working in her yard. I struck up a conversation and she gave me some poppy seeds. She said she got them after WWI because her husband remembered the poppy fields in France. Those poppies come up year after year nearly a hundred years later.

  6. When I was 21 I lived in London with my grandmother. I would take the train down south to Canterbury and the summer fields (wheat?) were covered with those red poppies. Just breaktaking – I shall never forget the lovely sight of them.


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