I started my New Year’s resolution early, direct seeding these poppies, Papaver somniferum, in October. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but they’ve been on “my must” plant list for over 20 years. Pathetic, maybe. Horribly distracted, probably.
I was botanizing common garden weeds with taxonomy friends when they first caught my attention. They were obviously poppies but I didn’t know my ornamentals well and I’m sure I stood there looking dazzled and uncertain. “Don’t you know what these are?” a friend asked. And, without waiting for a response she stated simply, “Opium poppies.”
I had no idea any old person could grow opium poppies, let alone let them run wild in a community garden. They’re beautiful, vibrant and legal? Cool.
Shortly following this I was waiting in line at the local bagelry. A newspaper article was neatly taped to one of the glass cases. It read, “Parolee fails drug test after eating poppy seed bagel, sent back to jail.” (Or something close to that.) I was getting a fast education.
Technically, poppy seeds are considered “free” of opiate substances but apparently not free enough. They are, however, quite nutritious for being miniscule. Rich in fiber, mono-unsaturated fatty acids (the good guys) and essential vitamins and minerals. Add to that their yummy, aromatic crunch as an ingredient in breads and other baked goods, (don’t forget, “beautiful, vibrant and legal”.) why wouldn’t you grow them? It’s easy.
Plan to seed between September and April. I generally prefer seeding in fall, letting winter weather water for me. Poppies can also exist in a dormant stage under winter snow. Grow in rich soil with good drainage in full sun. Gently broadcast seeds and cover barely with soil. Water moderately until germination. Making sure soil is just moist, not overly wet or dry. Water and fertilize as needed once germinated. Space about 12 inches apart and allow for at least 12 inches of root space. Thin or move plants to provide proper spacing. Poppies have fragile root systems so take care when moving or transplanting.
“A poppy is a poppy by any other name…”