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Plant an old favourite

When I was just a boy growing up on the farm, I started a flower garden. Of course, this was before the era of designer plants and before bedding plants were available in the spring, at least in rural Saskatchewan! If you wanted to grow flowers you did it the old-fashioned way — you planted seeds. This was a learn-as-you-go proposition for me but I did have some success at growing flowers from seeds planted outdoors, and I soon learned that one of the most reliable and easy-to-grow flowers was the poppy.

Although I grew Shirley poppies and Iceland poppies, I became quite fond of California poppies and included them in my flower garden every year. To this day, I cannot walk past a display of bright-golden California poppies without stopping and taking a good look — and remembering my fledgling gardening efforts years ago on the farm.

I think sometimes we get too caught up in current trends and ways of doing things and perhaps we need to rethink what we do. There are many glorious flowers that are easy to grow from seeds planted right in the garden — no need for starting them early or buying expensive plants from the garden centre. I still direct seed quite a number of flower seeds in my garden and delight in the vibrant show they provide.

California poppies have attractive ferny foliage that has a slightly bluish tint to it. The plants only get about 25 cm tall so this is a good plant to grow along the edge of the vegetable patch or near the front of a flower border. The bright-golden flowers are single and produced in great profusion.

One reason that people shy away from growing some of the more common flowers from seed is that these plants tend to have a shorter bloom time than many of the flowers purchased as bedding plants. The bloom time of many of these popular common flowers can be extended significantly, however, by consistent deadheading. If the spent blooms are snipped off with a pair of scissors so that the plants cannot produce seed, the plants continue to flower for weeks on end. This job is a rather tedious one as the seed heads of California poppies have to be snipped off individually rather than the whole plant being sheared. However, it will pay big dividends in encouraging a longer blooming period.

Some judicious cutting back might also be advisable later in the summer if the plants get rangy and overgrown. Don’t leave this too late, or the plants will not have a chance to develop new growth and set bud before freeze-up. California poppies are tough plants that will withstand light fall frosts. Also, they are not fussy about soil — in fact in their native habitat they grow abundantly on some very poor soils. They are drought tolerant and do not require extra care — like many old favourites, they are relatively “care free.”

California poppies — like most other poppies — do not make good cut flowers, and the blooms tend to close up when the sun is not shining, which detracts somewhat from the show they put on. However, their brilliant-gold colour and ease of culture might be enough incentive to persuade you to include this old favourite in your garden this year, even if it is only a bit of a row in your vegetable patch to attract the bees!

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