Good morning and happy Fourth of July weekend. I hope everybody has their flags up, their strawberry shortcake ready and something red, white and blue to wear. If you are reading this early on Sunday, you might want to travel out to Turner for the afternoon and evening and start your celebration early. The town is celebrating its 225th birthday and there will be fireworks at 9:30 p.m. in Turner Center. There will also be sales at small stands and nurseries. Isn’t there always room for one more bright and cheery pot somewhere?

I thought we might talk about poppies today because they are beautiful right now and so many of you don’t have them. I drive the highways and byways of central Maine and, as you might guess, take note of people’s flower choices. I seldom see poppies and have often wondered why. Sometimes people become fond of a particular flower because they see it somewhere. Perhaps they don’t grow poppies because they are not in abundance here.

There are many varieties and they fit many needs. The most spectacular of them all is the Oriental poppy. This perennial doesn’t last but when it’s in bloom, it is amazing. Most everyone thinks of Oriental poppies as being bright red or orange and from what I see out and about, the percentage of people who have lots of those colors is small. This transient and gorgeous flower actually comes in various shades of pink, purples and creams along with some mellow oranges and deep burgundy.

I know several people who say they don’t like poppies When the conversation continues, I discover they love the flowers but don’t know what to do when the plant disappears in the middle of summer. And that is what they do – they just disappear and leave a blank spot in the garden.

Oriental poppies are one of the first plants you see in the spring, often arising under the snow. They have a lovely mounded shape and normally begin putting up their flowers in the middle of June. If there are no downpours or really windy days, you might have the blooms for two to three weeks. When the heat of July arrives, the foliage yellows and the plant disappears. It reappears and begins to grow again as you head to September.

There are various ways to deal with the hole-in-the-garden problem. Fortunately, Oriental poppies get along quite well with neighboring plants that are also polite and don’t grow invasively. I planted Oriental poppies, surrounded with ground-cover roses and clematis, about 2 feet out from the base of a Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick tree. By the time Harry gets his leaves, the poppies have had lots of sun and neither the clematis nor the roses do a whole lot until the poppies are in bloom. So when the poppies disappear, the twisting branches and leaves of the tree, combined with the tendrils of clematis, camouflage the empty space very well. You can accomplish the same thing with any manner of plants, whether annual or perennial.

Oriental poppies like very rich and loamy soil with lots of compost. They do need a constant supply of water or sunshine. They are not a plant for a shade garden although they will do OK with part shade. Their blooms are beautiful in a vase, but I cut them only if heavy rain or wind is predicted. I like to see them in the garden. If you cut poppies, you need to carry a lighter and sear the stem end as soon as you cut them or they wilt quickly.

Another lovely annual poppy is the Shirley poppy. If you want some, you’ll probably have to grow them from seed. I have had poor luck finding these or other kinds of poppies in nurseries because they do not transplant well. Thus, the nurseries don’t grow them.

Shirley poppies are most definitely an old-fashioned cottage garden flower and were found extensively in our grandmothers’ gardens. During and after the Great Depression, if you had flowers they came from simply throwing out seeds you had saved or someone had given you. Whatever grew became the cottage garden. People living then would have never purchased flowers from nurseries; and according to older relatives of mine, if you bought seed it was for food crops, not flowers.

Poppies do have one wonderful habit – they seed out. If you like poppies and grow them one summer and don’t deadhead the blooms, you will get poppies next summer. That is, if you don’t forget they might be there and don’t weed them out. Too many things to remember sometimes.

I discovered another wonderful poppy — the peony poppy — thanks to Cindy at Hummingbird Farm in North Turner. It is one of those plants that is marketed as a perennial, but I think you actually have to live in Connecticut or by the seashore for that to be true. They, like Shirley poppies, do come back in your garden from seed. You can also collect seed from the spent blooms and sow them in the late fall or early spring.

And last, but not least, is the common poppy sometimes called the field or California poppy. It is also called the Flanders poppy because bright red/orange fields of them grow in Flanders Field, Belgium, over the graves of WWI soldiers. They will grow about anywhere and many farmers’ wives used them as a buffer plant between corn and soy fields and the house. They also seed out and will return each spring.They are lovely and ethereal in a meadow kind of area. They also come in a beautiful pink, but that is uncommon, and can be found in seed catalogs or purchased from heirloom seed companies.

All of the annual poppies will bloom most of the summer. So if you want to try something different in your garden, maybe poppies are just the right thing.

Until next time, enjoy the Fourth of July and remember to appreciate those who lie under the Flanders Field and in all the other battlefields and veterans cemeteries. Fly your flag high and celebrate your right to do so.

Happy gardening.

Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 25 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her dog and two cats. She may be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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