Red for Remembrance

November 9, 2019

In Flanders fields the poppies blow  

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below….


This poem was written by Canadian John McCrae shortly before he was killed fighting on the western front during World War I. That war ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In Canada, November 11 is a day to remember

the fallen. Belgium, France and Great Britain celebrate Armistice Day on that date. Here we celebrate Veterans Day to honor of living veterans on the 11th, and we honor the fallen on Memorial Day.


In all these nations the red poppy, Papaver rhoeas, is a symbol of death and remembrance. In China and Japan white poppies are funeral flowers while red ones symbolize deep love.


Most poppies are hardy annuals, meaning the seeds and seedlings are unfazed by frost. Once planted they will self-sow seeds for many years. Poppies do not tolerate root disturbance and so the gardener must direct-sow the seeds where they are to grow. In mild-winter areas like California, poppies can be sown in the fall for a late winter to early spring show. Eschscholzia california is a native wildflower that is cold hardy to zone 8.


Here we can sow poppies four to six weeks before the average last date of frost which typically, give or take a week, is April 15. There are several species of poppies so it may be important to know before you sow.


(Photo: Shirley poppies. Above, Dutch P. thorax)


For those wanting to harvest poppy seeds for baking, look for Papaver somniferum. There is also a poppy seed you can find for "Flanders Field Poppy." Shirley poppies are the same species but come in a wider variety of colors. I find that poppies bloom attractively along with bachelor buttons. They are about the same height so the blue and red really pop.


Icelandic and Oriental poppies are perennials. That being said they do not like hot weather and will disappear during our summers, hopefully to return the following spring. They are cold hardy to zone 4. These are taprooted plants that do not tolerate being transplanted so must be sown where you want them to grow.


(Photo: I took this at Lake Tahoe. It has California and Flanders poppies.)


 For those who like to start gardening as early as possible, poppies might be a great choice. You could have your own red poppies for Memorial Day. 


By the way, all poppies are deer resistant.


Ann Bartlett is a master gardener, and as such can quote an unusually high number of poems about flowers. 

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