Each season a handful of new varieties make the cut and gain permanent residence here on the farm. Making “the list” requires meeting a pretty strict set of criteria.
First, the item must grow somewhat easily and vigorously in my climate. This means no heroic measures; toxic chemicals or complicate procedures are required to produce a healthy plant.
Second, it must have a good vase life. I spend a great deal of effort growing and testing numerous potential candidates until I find one that is not only beautiful but lasts well too.
Third, it must have some unique characteristic, something that sets it apart, an added selling point of some kind. This may be a pleasing fragrance, an unusual shape, a muted or vibrant color, the variety is an heirloom, it looks old fashioned and romantic….anything different that will help me tell its story to customers and help it stand out in some way.
Lastly it must be beautiful! While all flowers are beautiful, I seek out varieties that take beauty to a new level. I want them to embody words like romantic, gorgeous, amazing, incredible, exquisite and stunning!
All of the items listed in the following Flower Focus posts have met these criteria and are the wonderful cast of characters that make up our wild and abundant garden.
Papaver nudicaule/Icelandic Poppies are one of my all time favorite cut flowers. These are not to be confused with Papaver somniferous/Opium Poppies, the annual variety that makes those fun green pods. While both are beautiful, the Iceland Poppies are grown for their tissue paper like blooms and are a highly prized cut flower with upscale designers. Opium Poppies are grown exclusively for their pods and seeds while their billowy flowers rarely hold up long enough to make a suitable cut.
After years of hearing rave reviews about these brilliant flowers I finally had the opportunity to add them to our spring line up a few seasons back. Being the trailer that I am, I of course grew every variety I could get my grubby little hands on! Red Sails, the Champagne Bubbles series, the Temptress series, the Meadow Pastels mix and the San Remo mix.
The Temptress series has long been the yardstick all other domestically grown varieties were measured by. Bob Wollam, a famous D.C. grower has spent many years singing their praises and a few years ago when the seed breeder dropped the line, Bob took up the cause on his own and worked to arrange tissue cultures of the remaining plants.
I grew the Temptress series during that first year trial and I’ll admit, they we amazing. Massive blooms on thick 20+” stems and they even came in a rainbow of individual colors including salmon, ivory and coral. Ahhh, my heart aches just thinking about them!
But sadly Bob was unable to save them and the only remaining seed has a tiny 30% germination rate. If you’re feeling lucky and want to try and save the last remaining seed, I heard Gloeckner had a few thousand left in storage.
The Champagne Bubbles series is the closest replacement I’ve found so far. They are available in 5 individual colors: white, orange, pink, yellow and scarlet plus a formula mix. The seed is primed so it germinates much easier than most other Icelandic varieties. Stems generally reach 15-18″, plenty tall for cutting. Flower heads are nice sized, the colors are cheerful and clear and the stems are thick and sturdy. Pink, which is actually much more coral to my eyes, is my favorite color in the mix. You can see it pictured below.
The San Remo series was really pretty. Flower stems were very tall, 24+” and blooms came in a wide range of gorgeous pastel colors. My biggest complaints were that they were only available as a mix and the stems were pretty wiry and thin. Cut flower growers can find plugs through Gloeckner, sourced from Headstart. I believe a 10 week lead time is required on plugs.
Slugs have gotten all of the Meadow Pastels (syn.) Party Fun two years running now but we’re giving them a whirl again this spring. This series is also only available as a mix but I’ve heard great things from a number of growers. Sarah Raven, author of my favorite book Grow Your Own Cut Flowers, sings their praises often. Seed is available for commercial growers from Geo and for home gardeners from Sarah Raven(UK) and Johnny’s Select Seed (USA)
Red Sails was a beautiful monster red variety. Super tall, thick stems, brilliant flowers but that color wasn’t in high demand for us in the spring so I haven’t kept it in the mix going forward. If you can move that color then certainly consider growing this one! Commercial growers can get seed from Ivy Garth and Geo.
There is mixed information about Icelandic Poppies being biennials or perennials. I actually grow them more like an annual here in our garden and aim for a few months of early blooming and then replace them with a fast summer crop like celosia or gomphrena.
If started early enough (this month ideally!) I’ve easily gotten them to flower by early-mid May in the unheated hoop houses. From newly planted plugs, we start getting blooms just 6 weeks after they go in the ground so the sooner they go in, the sooner there will be flowers.
I tucked 3 big beds of Poppies into a hoop house last fall as an experiment to see if we can get a March-April flush and then follow it with our typical planting. In the photo above, the furtherest bed running along the right side of the hoop is filled with tiny Poppy transplants. I was so worried that they were too small and would never flower in time.
A month and a half later, here is the same bed, in full rolling bloom. Pretty amazing huh?! These guys flowered their heads off for two solid months after this was taken. If you want an extra early crop then tucking the Poppies under covered will give you a jump on the season but they can thrive straight out in the garden too!
Seeds are tiny! They look more like dust than seed. Keep in mind that this particular flower takes extra care if you’re going to start it from seed. I sow ours in small seed trays (288’s) as early as possible (Dec-Jan) and then barely cover the seed with a fine dusting of vermiculite or sand. Then for the next few weeks I bottom water (set your seed tray in a flat of standing water and let it wick up the moisture from below vs. overhead watering) as to not accidentally wash away the babies with a powerful overhead spray. The seed flats are kept on 70* heat mats until the babies emerge and start to bulk up.
If you’re new to starting seed then go with the primed Champagne Bubbles series since they’re much faster to sprout than the others. If you can find plugs (baby plants), that would make things even easier and ensure that you get an abundance of blooms early in the season.
After plants are in the ground you’ll need to monitor them closely for signs of slug damage. Slugs love Poppies and you’ll want to put down slug bait (Sluggo is safe for pets, kids and you) from the start. We space our plants 9×9″ apart which results in 4-5 rows in each bed.
Once flowers start blooming, it can be a full time job to keep these beauties picked on time. I often comb through the patch daily snagging them at just the right time. The perfect stage to pick Poppies is in slightly cracking bud pictured above. Once the flowers open they are much more difficult to handle and process. If you’re growing for your own arranging needs then you can certainly cut them fully open but note vase life will be decreased by a couple of days. Growers will want to harvest at cracking bud stage for longest shelf life and easy transport.
Our bunches are harvested and rubber banded in the field and then carried back into the workroom (out of water) for their magic treatment. Pictured above is a bloom 1 day after harvest and then fully open just hours later. It’s amazing how those fuzzy little buds burst into such an incredible show in a matter of hours!
To ensure the longest vase life (6-7days!) from your Iceland Poppies you must sear the stem ends. Our bunches are typically 15-18 stems and are rubber banded 3-4″ up from the base so that the heat treatment won’t melt the bands. If you only have a few, a lighter or a cup of boiling water will work just fine but if you’ve got buckets, then the Burnzomatic propane torch with the instant trigger (pictured above) will be your very best friend. We snagged ours at the local hardware store.
Flame or dip (in boiling water) the bottom 2″ of the stems for 7-10 seconds or until you notice them changing color and consistency. I generally hold 10 bunches in my left hand and flame them all at once with the right. And there you have it, that’s the trick for getting the most out of your poppies!
Place them immediately into fresh water and you’re done. I’ve successfully stored them with out any issue for a full week in the cooler at cracking bud stage. They even did quite well fully open, so if you need to hold them for something special, it shouldn’t be a problem as long as you have a cooler.
Ours always flower right through peony season and to me, there’s nothing pretty than the two together!