Oriental poppies are definitely divas. They grab the limelight for 10 days or so before fading away for another year. Yet despite their brief reign, they are indispensable in the early summer garden, because these long-lived beauties deliver before most perennials have even thought about budding up.
The most arresting poppy you can grow is the big, beautiful Oriental - and it doesn't only come in red.
Introduced in 1987, Papaver orientale 'Haremstraum' is a colourful formula mix of the newer hybrids.
Throughout May and June, these big blousy oriental poppies break out their large sumptuous coloured, crumpled petals from tight fisted buds. They bloom in a range of modern colours, white, pink, salmon, orange, red, and mauve. Most have intricately decorated, deep purple-black hearts. Growing to around 80cm (32in) with strong stems they are very useful for cutting.
Oriental Poppies are prodigious bloomers. One-year old plants will send up at least three blooming stalks. Older plants produce a dozen or more over a 30 day period. To achieve such immense blooms and intense hues, one would assume that poppies require exact growing conditions. Nothing could be less true. They are happy in most sites and soils though will flower be at their best in full sun in well drained soil. They flourish in spite of drought, baking from intense summer heat or freezing in winter. Once established, the bold Oriental poppies grow and multiply for decades.
The ferny foliage may die back in the hottest days of summer, but returns in autumn giving a clump of beautiful winter foliage. Once finished, their untidy departure is often cause for complaint. No matter - simply take the whole clump back to ground level with a pair of shears. Neat rosettes of fresh leaves will be produced within a few weeks and there may be more flowers in late summer. Or use the disguise technique favoured by Miss Jekyll; simply allow other later-flowering plants to cover the poppy's embarrassment.
Sowing: Sow indoors in Spring or in Autumn
Sow in February to April or in August to September, or sow outdoors after all frosts have passed, usually around early May . Oriental Poppies are best sown indoors but they do not handle transplanting or over-watering well. If you plant indoors, handle them with care when transplanting.
Sow at temperatures of around 16 to 20°C (60 to 68°F), covering them with a very fine layer of vermiculite. Perennial Poppies seeds need light for germination. (Annual poppies need the dark). Keep moist but not wet at all times. Germination between 10 to 30 days. Prick out each seedling as it becomes large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots or trays. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out. Space 45cm (18in) apart.
Seeds are best sown in short drills 12mm (½in) deep once temperatures reach around 20°C (68°F). They prefer a sunny open site but will grow in most sites and soils.
Sow directly outdoors where they are to flower. Prepare the ground well and rake to a fine tilth before sowing. Mark the sowing areas with a ring of light coloured sand and label if sowing more than one annual in the same bed. Sow 1.5mm (1/18th in) deep in rows 15cm (6in) apart.
Seeds germinate in 10 to 30 days. The seedlings will appear in rows approx 6 to 8 weeks after planting and can be told from nearby weed seedlings quite easily. Thin the seedlings out so they are finally 23cm (9in) apart by early summer. Compost should be kept slightly moist, but not wet at all times.
Poor light soil is best if the goal is to keep the foliage minimal without loss of flower-power, foliage growth is more vigorous in humus type soil. In poor soil the flowers may remain more upright, whereas in rich soil the flower stems will be longer & fountain downward in the direction of the most sun.
Once the flowers have bloomed, cutting off the stems will usually produce a second bloom. Leave a few plants to self seed, others can be pulled up and composted.
Every few years the clump can be dug up, divided and replanted in September or October. The shock of division occasionally causes it to skip a year blooming. A big old clump can also be divided into many very small starts, & protected in small pots until they are big enough to put into their permanent locations the following autumn. Mulch can be used to protect the plant over the winter.
Oriental poppies are difficult for flower arranging because when fully opened they quickly fall apart. But if one wishes to use them as cut flowers, they should be taken early in the morning before new blooms have fully opened, the stems seared with a flame and allowed to finish opening in the bouquet.
They'll last at least the full day if not moved. In the main, however, it is best to skip past them when cutting bouquets, but later on the seedheads can be taken, dried, and used for dried flower arranging.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Flower Borders and Beds, Flower arranging.
Pronounced pah-PAY-ver: or-ee-en-TAL-ee. The genus name Papaver is the classical Latin name for the poppy. It is derived from the Latin pappa, meaning food or milk and alludes to the milky sap produced by some poppies.
The species name orientale means 'Eastern' referring to the plants origin.
The Oriental poppies that inhabit our gardens today are complex hybrids rather than selections of Papaver orientale have been around for less than a hundred years. The species that parented the hybrids, however P. bracteatum, P. pseudo-orientale, and the true wild P. orientale have a much longer history of cultivation. They are native to north-eastern Turkey, the southern Caucasus, and north-western Iran where they inhabit sub-alpine and alpine zones.
P. orientale has been known the longest in Western gardens, having been sent back to Europe by the French botanist Joseph de Tournefort who discovered the Oriental poppy in Armenia in 1714. Papaver pseudo-orientale was in cultivation by 1788, when it appeared in William Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, and the introduction of P. bracteatum can be traced back to 1817.
All three species look similar, pretty much like standard-issue oriental poppies, with black-blotched red or orange petals and coarse, bristly, divided foliage. Superior varieties in better colours didn't begin to appear until the early 20th century.
Joseph Pitton de Tournefort and Andreas Gundelsheimer, together with Claude Aubriet as artist made one of the earliest plant-collecting expeditions to the east of Turkey. The team set off from Paris in 1700 and reached Istanbul in early 1701 before sailing along the Black Sea coast to Trebizond (present day Trabzon). From there, they travelled inland, accompanying a caravan of around 600 men and animals for safety, reaching Erzurum on 15 June. During an expedition from there into the mountains, to visit the sources of the Euphrates, they collected seeds of Papaver orientale, which were subsequently grown in Paris, and then sent to England in about 1714. They reached the new world colonies in around 1741.
All was quiet on the poppy front until 1906, when the renowned British nurseryman Amos Perry of The Hardy Plant Farm at Enfield, Hertfordshire spotted a salmon-pink-flowered seedling in a bed of red-flowered poppies. In 1906 it was brought to market under the name ‘Mrs Perry’ after his first wife Nancy. It caused a sensation and marked the beginning of the expansion of the Oriental poppy’s range of colour. The peachy ‘Mrs Perry’ is still available and can hold its own against the newer pinks.
In 1913, one of Perry’s customers wrote him to complain that the ‘Mrs Perry’ he had bought to enhance an all-pink border turned out instead to be a “nasty fat white one.” Profuse apologies and a replacement were issued, the offending white poppy was whisked back to the nursery, and ‘Perry’s White’ was born.
This exciting discovery gave impetus to Perry’s breeding program, and the cultivars that resulted from the period between 1906 and 1914 have probably contributed their genes to many of the more recent selections. Today’s Oriental poppies offer not only a broadened colour palette, but also a range of petal texture, from smooth to crimped and ruffled (sometimes to the point of seeming double); some selections, such as ‘Türkenlouis’, even look as though their petal edges had been cut with pinking shears.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 1 gram Average Seed Count 3,500 Seeds Family Papaveraceae Genus Papaver Species orientale Cultivar Haremstraum Common Name Oriental Poppy. Harems Dream Other Language Names GR: Orientalischer Mohn Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Mix: white, pink, salmon, orange, red, and mauve. Natural Flower Time Late spring to early summer. Height 80cm (32in) Spread 45cm (18in) Spacing 45 to 60cm. (18 to 24in) Position Full Sun preferred Soil Well drained, dryish soil. Time to Sow February to April, or August to September Germination 10 to 30 days