Papaver orientale ‘Queen Alexandra’
(Papaver orientale ‘Carneum’) Who can resist the allure of the oriental poppy in full summer dress. Year on year it pushes up more and more spectacular papery blooms over a mont hor so in May. This lovely variety produces huge satiny blooms of romantic pale pink, 15cm wide and vividly blotched with black at the base of each petal, just above the balck feather boa of stamens. Undemanding in the border, requiring nothing more than sun and reasonable drainage, they thrive in most soils. As summer heat increases the foliage slips into dormancy but can be easily snipped off or covered with later flowering perennials which are allowed to flop forward and, in the words of Gertrude Jekyl, ‘cover its embarassement.’ As cooler conditions return so do the leaves, making an evergreen mound over the winter months. 75cm
Oriental Poppies are a real hit of blousy extravagance for the early season, but need careful placement to work in the garden. They have an unusual seasonal growth pattern, starting into leafy growth in late Summer. They go all winter as a leafy mound which then throws the flowering stems in May to June, after which they disappear for a Summer sleep. This can make them difficult to buy in a pot as the effort of flowering robs the leaves and they usually look atrocious just when customers want to choose them by colour. (Much better to buy them off a reputable website with lovely photographs !). In the garden plant them where a later flowering plant can flop into the space they vacate during summer. Some suggest planting them behind Asters. Gertrude Jekyll used to plant them in front of large Hostas They often need staking, but, in my opinion, look a lot better flopping forward in decadent abandon. Grow in any deep well drained soil, preferably in full sun.
There is an interesting history to the first white oriental poppy, ‘Perry’s White’. Oriental Poppies were initially just red until in 1905 Amos Perry, by chance, found the salmon pink P. ‘Mrs Perry’. He sowed many self-crosses hoping for a white, but none came. In 1912 a customer of his was planting a fashionable pink border, pale at the edges building to a rich scarlet at the centre. He supplied all the plants and retired satisfied. However in 1913 he received an irate letter saying that instead of the startling red centrepiece poppy there had arrived ‘a nasty fat white one’. He went along promptly to investigate and swapped the offending white with some montbretias. Papaver ‘Perry’s White’ had been found.
The poppy has long been associated with sleep. In Othello, Iago says
‘Not poppy, nor mandragora
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou ownd’st yesterday…’
The Opium Poppy, Papavaer somnifera has been the source of comfort and misery for generations. The raw material obtained from scratching the seed pods is the illegally traded basis of heroin. However, when refined into Morphia it is the basis of many pain relieving drugs such as codeine. Morphia often forms the basis of cough remedies as is works as a suppressant on the part of the brain responsible for coughing.
Papaver is the original Roman name for poppies. Poppy is derived from the Anglo Saxon ‘popig’, a corruption of the Latin.