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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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May 29

The Wait

Posted on May 29, 2015 at 9:57 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

The saying that "all good things are worth waiting for" seriously holds true for Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale). A year ago, we set bare root plants in planters near the barn. The plants seemed stunted as very little growth occurred and each provided only a meager few green leaves. The poppies were mixed in with daffodil and lily bulbs that required similar water and sun, yet the foliage just wouldn't take off.

Then came spring of 2015. Like a bad weed, these plants grew almost overnight. The leaves fanned out, and then up through the base of the cluster of leaves emerged the flower buds. Again, the wait to see the beautiful flowers seemed endless! The flower buds took the form of thick hairy pods that slowly bulged out to a modest-sized kumquat.

Oriental Poppy breaking out of pod 
 Oriental poppy breaking out of pod
Each early evening, on our way out to the barn to feed the horses, we would hope to see the unveiling of the magnificent crepe-like flowers. At first, it appeared that something was eating at the swollen buds, but there wasn't any sign of insects in the area. Then, from the base of the pod, a split formed revealing hints of brilliant orange-red that expanded until the protective pod sat squarely disconnected on the furled flower and then dropped to the ground as the flower opened up. The flower was a treasure to behold and definitely worth the wait. The best part is more flower buds are forming to prolong the beauty of this plant.

The downside of Oriental poppies is waiting for them to produce flowers in early spring. They go dormant shortly after they finish blooming. The hair-like and sage-green-colored leaves protect the plant from the sun's heat but, as the summer months become hotter, these poppies will disappear leaving us waiting once again for their fall leaf appearance and spring flowers.

The good news is they are a great for the water-conserving garden. After their blooming season comes to an end, they produce seed pods that can be collected to start new plants, though the seeds may not hold true color to the parent plant. For true reproduction of color, root cuttings can be taken. These plants have a very long life expectancy, and leaving a small root in the ground when moving plants about can guarantee another plant growing in that space again.

What can be done during the disappearing dormant phase? In the absence of the Oriental poppy, I found mixing our state flower, the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), into the planters provides needed color that works in that hydrozone. Our native annual poppy now comes in all shades of reds, yellows, and oranges. Like the Oriental poppy, it sends down deep roots and freely reseeds itself every year.
 Oriental poppies
 Oriental poppies

Oriental poppies. I know this plant will be a keeper in my garden. As garden blogger Tom Fischer stated, "Oriental poppies are the sexiest hardy perennials in existence." I don't think I can disagree with him!

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