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Oriental poppies: Glamour girls of the garden

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Courtesy of Karan Davis Cutler

(Read caption) The older hybrid ‘Beauty of Livermere’ is still the standard for red-colored Oriental poppies. Its firecracker blooms, as much as eight inches across, are held on strong, three-foot stems, which are two of the qualities that helped win it a Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit.

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Every spring I debate with myself about Oriental poppies, Papaver orientale. If an image doesn’t come immediately to mind, think big and gorgeous and sexy, the kind of bloom that Georgia O’Keefe liked to -- and did -- paint.

My reservation about Oriental poppies isn’t about their visual libidinousness but with their liabilities as garden plants. Their bloom lasts only a moment, they are easily damaged by wind and rain, they have trouble standing up by themselves, and their post-flower foliage is weedy and lasts far too long.

Like movie actresses who rely on their looks, their moment in the sun is brief.

Ideal for those who love color

My small poppy collection includes a traditional orange, which I like least; several reds, including the old-timer ‘Beauty of Livermere’; and the salmon-pink ‘Cedric Morris’. And ‘Patty’s Plum’, a dusky purple cultivar that began as a volunteer in an English compost pile, another good argument for not sending green waste to the local landfill. ['Beauty of Livermere' and 'Patty's Plum' are shown above; to see the second and third photos, click on the arrow at the right base of the first photo.]

There are still more Oriental poppies, including whites and cultivars with doubled petals, ruffled petals, and petals with edges that are fringed or serrated. Whatever the petal color, the flower’s center will be blotched with black or another dark color and contain a large, decorative seed capsule surrounded by dark-colored stamens.

Easy to grow but not to transplant

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