Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pinching poppies

One of my favourite songs about New Orleans has these wonderful lyrics about self-improvement, New Orleans style:
"Drink all day, dance all night,
do it wrong till I do it right".
Though I'm not much of a dancer, as an amateur gardener I can relate to the idea of doing it wrong till I do it right. And so I enter the second year of poppy-growing, hoping to get closer to doing it right this time round.

Might as well start with a quick look back at last year's poppy patch. This year's patch is full of promise, but right now I'm deliberately stopping any flowers from forming. I'm pinching poppies.

Here's the patch at the moment. Seedlings aplenty, the plants getting bigger every day. Almost ready to start flowering, but not quite. Another week or two yet.

As far as the plants are concerned they're ready to go, they're sending up flower stems everywhere.

Alas for them, I'm here to thwart their ambitions for another week or two. I've been pinching out poppy flowers for the last week or so. This is simply to encourage all the plants to grow to a decent size before I stand back and let them start producing flowers. This is a very important trick with growing many annuals. Don't let them start flowering until the plants have grown to full size. Then, when you do let them start flowering, the flower show is denser and also lasts longer. Using this method, last year's poppy show lasted from June through to October.

There are some other people I'm pinching out of my poppy patch. Spuds. Potatoes. I've heard these self-sown spuds called 'volunteers', which is a good name for them. From last year's potato patch – this year's poppy patch – I've now pulled up about 15 potato volunteers. I was sure I had harvested all the spuds, but no way!

This is what the poppy patch is all about. Pretty little vases of cut flowers in the house. This is a corner of Pam's little studio, which overlooks the garden.

As for the things I hope I'm doing right this year (and that I didn't do right last year), the main one is that all of my poppy plants are bought seedlings. Last year I grew about two-thirds of the patch from seed, and only used bought seedlings to plug a few gaps. All the bought-seedling plants had strong, stout stems and a good variety of flower colours. The seed-grown plants produced mostly yellow, orange or white flowers on spindly stems. So, while I'm a big fan of growing vegies from seed, I've decided that seedlings seem to work best for me when it comes to poppies, at least.


Onesimus said...

I sowed some Iceland poppy seed ages ago and thought they had failed. Only a few days ago I noticed some strange little seedlings appearing in the various spots where the seeds had been sown and it took a while to register that these were probably the poppies.

Thanks for the hint about pinching out the early flowers. It should help me to get better plants than if I'd left them to their own devices.


Jenny said...

My Mum used to grow poppies from seed. I remember her baking the soil in the oven before she planted the seeds so that it would kill all the bugs that used to run away with her seed. Lovely display.

Chandramouli S said...

That was an informative post, Jamie. I haven't been successful at germinating poppies last year when I started building Plantville (my garden). Looking at this post makes me want to give it a go again. Thank you :)