Filed Under (my country home) by admin on 06-02-2008

I had the good fortune of spending a year in Italy when I was nine and ten years old. During that stay, my family made a few trips into the Italian and Swiss Alps. On one of those trips, I imagine, we walked in a mountain meadow full of red poppies. I say I imagine, because I don’t have a specific memory of the event, but I know that poppies favor alpine meadows, and I know that we visited the Alps… So, for some thirty years I’ve had a romantic notion of fields of red poppies.

When I moved to rural Pennsylvania, poppies emerged as a recurring issue for me. In the spring, I’d see impressive concentrations of poppies sprout green in other people’s yards, burst into flower, and then fade—all in a matter of a few weeks. I wanted a similar display in my yard.

So, when I bought seeds for the vegetable garden, I also bought a packet of perennial poppy seeds. I planted the seeds in an unclaimed area at the south side of our deck, and watered them for several weeks. Sprouts appeared, but I couldn’t tell poppies from weeds, and the plants I guessed were poppies vanished when their leaves were very small. It was apparent the next spring that no poppies had grown where I’d planted them.

That next spring, I planted poppy seeds in the same place, and watched closely as sprouts appeared and then vanished within a few days. I wondered about soil conditions, but finally realized that wild animals in our yard like the flavor of poppy sprouts. Rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels, or chipmunks—I didn’t know, but there was little doubt they were biting off the tops of the plants before the plants could get established.

I laid off the poppy effort for a few years, but then heard Peter, Paul, & Mary’s recording of No Man’s Land written by Eric Bogle, and I really wanted to have poppies in my yard—as a reminder of the song’s sentiment (see my previous blog entry for more about the song). A verse of the song describes a graveyard in France where WWI soldiers are buried:

The sun it shines down on these green fields of France,
The warm wind blows gently, the red poppies dance…

Hearing the song—thinking about the song—makes me sad… and it further romanticizes alpine fields of red poppies.

I planted poppy seeds around a bush along the South border of our front yard. This time, one plant survived. I planted seeds there the next spring in the shadow of the lone poppy plant, and again the next spring when no new plants emerged. My wife planted again the next year, with one new plant resulting.

The good news is that once that poppy established itself, it proved indestructible. There is usually green visible all year except when snow covers it, and the plant puts out more leaves and more blossoms each spring. In five or six years, the two plants we’ve managed to start from seed may expand around the base of the bush and provide a gorgeous springtime bouquet that dances in the warm winds of spring.

Each spring for four years, I’ve marveled at the intense color and at the extreme contrasts of the poppy. The petals are soft—almost diaphanous; the leaves and stems are coarse—almost prickly. Seeing the leaves erupt in the spring, the hairy buds, and the glowing flowers makes me happy; the reminder of alpine meadows and graveyards in France makes me sad.

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1 Comment posted on "Poppies for my Country Home"
carrie on November 2nd, 2009 at 12:45 am #

We have wild poppies out here in California, they grow where ever they want. When I was a child going to school in Canada we bought a poppy each year to wear on our lapel, honoring veterans. I miss wearing those poppies!

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