THE genus of Papaver contains such a wide variety of species (around 70 according to one source) that it is difficult to know where one should start any piece on them.
With annuals, biennials and perennials represented, the choice gets even more difficult and, with some potentially being invasive self-seeders, I am at a loss to know where to begin.
So, I will give you a few of my favourites that I have experienced over the years and you can then make your own minds up about which ones you choose.
Papaver somniferum, the Opium poppy of Afghanistan fame, has produced many wonderful variations including the strange ‘Hens and Chickens’ that produces strange multiple-clustered seed pods and some incredible ‘paeony flowered’ variants with large double petalled flower heads.
This hardy annual can be a little invasive but the dried seed heads are excellent for dried arrangements over-winter. Be assured that this species does not produce any ‘opium’ in this country as our climate is not hot and dry enough.
The Flanders poppy, Papaver rhoeas, has increased again in recent years in the countryside and there are now a number of good cultivars to search out including the ‘Shirley Series.’ Papaver croceum, syn.nudicale is supposedly a biennial but I have several specimens in the garden that have thrived for 10 years or more.
This native of sub-arctic regions of the world flowers for months on end, with a little dead-heading from us, and there are now a number of excellent cultivars to choose from. Look out for ‘Champagne Bubbles’ and ‘Flamenco’ among others. The Ladybird Poppy, P. commutatum, is a true hardy annual, with delicate, divided leaves and scarlet flowers that have those startling black markings in the centre of the flower. It can self-seed if it decides it likes your garden!
Take a look at www.chilternseed.co.uk for a good selection.