The poppy plant has a long history of military service. The flower has been the symbol for remembrance of those who fell in battle. But how did this come about? The tell is full of twists and turns but begins with the end of WWI.
On November 11, 1918, WWI ended. Many individuals had pasted and both sides were busy burying their dead. Then, in 1919 it was decided to have a day of remembrance of those who had passed during the war. The date chosen was November 11 and the first remembrance day was referred to as Armistice Day. Later on this date became known as Remembrance Day or Poppy Day. But how did the poppy become the symbol of this day?
This flower symbol started out as a poem written by John McCrea, who was a doctor in Europe during 1915. During his service he saw many different plants but the one that stuck out the most was the poppy. This red flower seemed to grow everywhere and could be seen at one of the bloodiest battles during WWI at Gallipoli. He was so moved by this flower that he wrote a poem about what he saw.
This poem was well-read in both Europe and America. An American poet Moina Michael found the poem extremely touching and felt that the poppy could give closure to the living while showing respect for the dead. She began to buy poppy flowers and distribute them to her friends. They became so popular that she began to sell them and give the money to needy servicemen. The first Poppy Day bloomed from this in 1921.
The poppy flower itself represents lost youth since its blooms only last short amount of time, which is a symbol for all the young take before their time. The red color itself symbolizes blood that covered many fields during the war.
Today, poppies are viewed as a troublesome weed in Europe while in America it is treated as cut flower, a colorful landscape addition or a way of naturalizing an area.
Growing Poppies 101
Poppies (Papuveraceae) come in 120 different varieties. Some of these are annuals while other are perennials. But regardless of the type, the planting basics are the same.
This plant is very versatile. It can tolerate partial shade to full sun and its soil requirements ranging from well-drained to moist. They also like a soil pH from a neutral to slightly acidic.
Poppies can be started indoors or out. If you start inside, you will need to start out with a clean, sterilized flat or container filled with an all-purpose soil. Once you have this set up, the next step is to moisten the soil before planting. This is very important since the poppy seed is very small and can be carried away through heavy misting. Once the soil has been moistened, it is time to begin the planting process. To aid you in dispersing your seed evenly, consider placing your seed in an old bottle that has a snap or screw on lid. Once you place one packet of seeds in the bottle, add one tablespoon of sand or sugar to the bottle. Place the lid on and shake up. After this is done, gently sprinkle on top of your soil.
Once you have your seeds sprinkled on, top with 1/8 inch of soil and place on a germination mat. Top the planted container with clear plastic or a sheet of glass. Do not top with a lid that is a dark color. Poppy seeds need light to germinate.
While you can start your poppies indoors, they are just as easily planted outside in the garden bed when the temperature is between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. To begin this process, prepare the garden space by working up the soil and adding a good amount of compost. Once that is done, place your seeds in your “shaker” as described above and apply to the prepared garden space. Cover with 1/8 inch of soil and very gently water in.
In 14 to 28 days, you will begin to see germination occurring. At this time, begin to thin the plants out so that they are 8 to 18 inches apart. But do not waste the seedlings. These are easily transplanted into other areas.
Poppies are very low maintenance. They only require deadheading if you want to harvest the seeds. Fertilize only once month with a formula that is high in phosphorous during the blooming period and nitrogen the rest of the growing season. Add mulch to control weeds and conserve soil moisture.
How to Showcase Poppies
To get the biggest visual impact from your poppies comes in three ways. First, they can be added to container gardens as that unique splash of color and a texture element that comes from their foliage. In the landscaping, there power comes in numbers. Outline your landscape with two rows of poppies or for an unforgettable statement plant a large grouping around your door. The color will draw the eye to the area where you want people to enter.
The last way you can maximize your poppies is through naturalizing an area. To do this, prepare the area as described above. Mix your wildflower seed with your poppy seed. Remember to add one tablespoon of sand or sugar per seed packet. Once that is done, plant as described above but do not thin. Let nature takes its course. The haphazard design that you will end up will make the area look like Mother Nature planted it herself.
If you plan to use your poppies as a cut flower, you will need to seal the stem. This is done by simply burning the cut end with a lit match or lighter as soon as the flower has been cut. This will prevent the flower for “bleeding to death” or losing all its sap. If this happens, the life expectancy of the flower will be decreased and it will also poison the water in the vase affecting the other plant material.
While poppies have a long history of symbolism, they do provide a colorful alternative that is flexible enough to fit into many different environments.