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Starlets of the garden

Showy oriental poppies are brief, but tolerant and easy to grow.


Poppies bloom in Alna, Maine.

Pat Wellenbach/AP/FILE

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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, the kind of bloom that Georgia O'Keeffe liked to paint.

My reservation about Oriental poppies isn't about their visual showiness 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.


My small poppy collection includes a traditional orange, which I like least; several reds, including the old-timer "Beauty of Livermere"; the salmon-pink "Cedric Morris"; and "Patty's Plum," a dusky purple cultivar (a variety produced by selective breeding) that began as a volunteer in an English compost pile – a good argument for not sending your green waste to the local landfill.

There are still more Oriental poppies, including whites and cultivars with doubled petals, ruffled petals, and petals with edges that are fringed or serrated.


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