Icelandic Poppies (Papaver nudicale)

When people see these poppies, they say one of two things. They don't look real, or they look like paper. I've often been glad that they are real, because the skill required to make these gorgeous things out of paper is certainly beyond me. Growing them is another story. Mother nature does all the fancywork.

January 14, 2017-in the '15-'16 growing season, I planted Champagne Bubbles and Meadow Pastels poppies. Half of each kind went into the field on Nov 18 and Feb 26. I had seeded indoors 6 weeks prior. Icelandic poppies have a very low germination rate for me, around 20%, so I buy lots more seed than I need plants. The first year I bought seeds from Swallowtail Garden Seeds, the second year from Ivy Garth. 

The plants spent the winter uncovered. They were smashed flat by 6" of snow in January and happily bounced back. By the end of February, the plants were bulking up and setting buds. By the last week of March, a few were ready for cutting. Some of the first to bloom were doubles, but this didn't seem to last through the season. 

The poppies bloomed all through April and May. The first planting made larger plants, and the second planting began to come into flower several weeks later. Both plantings bloomed a couple of weeks into June, when they began to struggle in the heat. Production dropped off at that point, and we turned over the bed and planted a cover crop. 

The best time to cut poppies is just before they pop their little bud coverings, and they go from bud to open flower fast. We were out cutting poppies twice a day to keep them all harvested. 

We seared the ends of the stems with a blowtorch, and got three to four days of vase life. When cut in full flower, the vase life is shorter, and the poppies are more difficult to transport. If a customer wants a particular color, though, we have to wait a little and let the flower open enough to see it. If Meadow Pastels were available in individual colors, we could forgo this step. 

Because of the relatively short vase life, we only offer poppies to designers, and don't put them in market bouquets. I'll continue to work on improving vase life, and maybe change this in the future. 

In the '16-'17 season, I only planted Meadow Pastels. They were better plants with taller stems and softer colors than the Champagne Bubbles. Champagne Bubbles comes in individual colors, of which I would say coral and white may be worth planting for sales to designers. The sherbet colors of Meadow Pastels were very popular with our customers. 

Since the second planting flowered later and didn't bloom much longer than the first, I only plan for one fall planting of poppies. 

Larkspur (Delphinium consolida)

Sept 5, 2016: Mid Oct 2015 I direct seeded Sublime series Azure, Dark Blue, Salmon, and White. No winter protection, in landscape fabric, 6" spacing, no pinch. Planted again mid-Dec and mid-March. First planting bloomed at over 5' tall, with decreasing heights down to about 20" for my March planting.

The bloom window for the whole bed was the end of April to the beginning of June, just a little over a month. What the succession planting accomplished was to give me varying sizes of flower spikes, but the difference in bloom time was really only a couple of weeks or so between the first and last plantings.

Flower spikes are very geotropic, I found out quickly. The tips bent toward the ceiling in my cooler if the stems were stored anything but straight upright. White sold to florists, the salmon a little. All colors are useful in grocery bouquets, although I did find the salmon a little hard to match up with some of the bluer pinks I was getting in other flowers blooming at the same time, Amazon dianthus 'Rose Magic', for instance.

Although I ended up with some impressively large flower spikes, pinching would probably give me more usable bouquet stems. Those spikes are only going to be useful for church urns or some other giant (rare) installation. This year I'll make one fall sowing and pinch.

Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis)

1/14/17: I direct seeded Bells mid-October, mid-January, and mid-March. The first round was ready for cutting the first week of May. I don't know exactly when the second round was ready, I want to say maybe a month later.

Because I was only selling to florists at that time, and didn't have a bouquet outlet yet, and I didn't have any orders for them, they sat in my field and grew taller and taller. About the second week of June I began to use them for grocery bouquets and a florist order. By then some of the lower bells had begun to dry, but I just stripped them off and still ended up with good long spikes. Often, with 12-18" worth of bells on a spike, I was stripping off a lot of bells and cutting a lot of stem to make them fit into grocery bouquets. They are the perfect fat, apple-green bouquet filler.

It did rain on them once or twice, and they flopped over. Shaking the rain out the next morning stood them back up again. I didn't use support netting, but if you had a lot you might want to, to avoid the rain-shaking thing.

The third round of seeding never did make decent stems. When it got hot, they struggled, and made little gnarly-looking copies of their larger brethren. When I turned over my winter beds in July or so, they got plowed under.

I did see very nice volunteers in October, leading me to wonder whether a July seeding would make a good round of fall bells.

This last fall ('16) I made just one seeding. This is because I only have 1/2 bed (180 sq ft) to devote to them, and they'll hold in the field for a month while I cut them. If I had a whole bed, I'd do the October and January seedings to spread it out some. They're not exactly once-and-done cuts, some stems still come on after you cut, but they're not endless producers like zinnias.

Postharvest: These guys last forever in the cooler but are VERY geotropic. I store them upright in a bucket that's tall enough to hold the flower spikes, not just the stems.

Also, I really love the way that they smell. The photo is from my first cutting, when the spikes were still on the small side. I wish I had a photo of the plants when they got monstrous. Must learn to take more pictures.