I can trace my love of poppies back to The Wizard of Oz, and that field of swaying poppies that puts Dorothy to sleep before the good fairy makes the snow fall. These simple flowers enchanted me even before I first put trowel to dirt.
True poppies belong to the Papaveraceae family, which is made up of about 100 species of annual, biennial and perennial herbaceous plants. They produce light green feathery foliage and flowers that look like crinkled silk. Single poppies generally have four overlapping petals that form a cup, while doubles can be dense and heavily ruffled, almost like peonies. Since they vary from petite six-in (15-centimetre) plants to the more stately and flamboyant five-foot (150-centimetre) varieties, there are poppies suitable for every site, from rockeries to meadows, and formal of informal garden beds. All poppies like sun and well-drained soil, but while the annual species do fine in average soil, perennials prefer something a little richer.
* Read about perennial poppies here.
Most poppies are easy to grow, and the annual species are no exception. They grow well right across Canada, generally blooming in late spring and early summer. While each flower only lasts a day or two, deadheading encourages plants to issue new blooms for weeks.
Sow seeds for annual poppies directly in the garden—they resent transplanting—in full sun and average soil. Since the seeds are very fine, mix them with sand and gently rake the mix into the ground in the spring, watering them in. Mark the ground carefully so small seedlings won't be inadvertently weeded out. In mild climates, sow as early as February or March; in cold regions wait until April or May. You can sprinkle seeds on the last of the melting snow and let them find their own spots in the soil, or plant them a little later, when you can work the ground. Alternatively, Kevin Twomey, owner of T&T seeds in Winnipeg, starts annual poppies indoors in peat pots in mid to late April (roots grow through the peat pops, minimizing root disturbance, he says), and moves the seedlings into the garden about a month later, when they're three or four centimetres tall. This prevents him from inadvertently weeding out germinating poppy seeds and gets plants blooming earlier.
Successive sowings until late spring give you blooms well into summer. Poppy seeds can also be down in fall, anytime from late September to November; they'll germinate the following spring.