California Poppies in my Garden

– Posted in: Garden Adventures

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I love the way California poppies undress before they debut, their satiny orange petals held in place by cone-shaped, diaphanous robes. Or maybe those are hats?

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In spring, poppies sashay in drifts through my Southern CA garden, wearing tea-length, glossy satin gowns.

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Poppies reseed on their own, so I never know exactly where they’ll appear. A friend gave me an idea I’m going to try this year: After the flowers turn into slender seedpods, he cuts the whole shebang off at the base, leaving the plant intact. Then he tosses the bunches wherever he wants poppies the next spring.

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Poppies are feminine, ephemeral and exuberantly orange. Here, they flirt with my masculine, brooding, silver-blue agave.

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On cloudy days and at night, poppies swirl shut, as though feeling a chill. As a child, I imagined them saying (in high-pitched voices), “Show’s over…bye-bye!”

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified. Debra is a regular contributor to Sunset and other publications, and her own half-acre garden near San Diego has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens. Debra specializes in showing how to use architectural, waterwise and easy-care succulents in a wide variety of appealing and creative applications. www.debraleebaldwin.com.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin

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Joy May 9, 2009, 7:31 am

These are such pretty delicate looking flowers .. and YES ! the way they unfurl is amazing .. that picture of them against the agave is PERFECT !

Thank you! I do love the way the sizzling orange contrasts with the gun-metal gray of the agave. Amazing, isn’t it, how tough such delicate flowers can be? Debra

Diana May 9, 2009, 7:40 am

They’re wonderful – especially set against the agave. I’ve had no luck with poppies thus far, but you’ve made me want to keep trying!

Well, I don’t know what to tell you…in my garden, CA poppies thrive with hot summers, parched winters and lots of neglect. ;+) Debra

our friend Ben May 9, 2009, 10:09 am

I’m so jealous, Debra! Wish I had better luck with California poppies here in PA. I know of no more cheerful plant!

And here, we take them for granted. I scattered a handful of poppy seeds about a decade ago, and haven’t done anything to encourage them since. For such easy-grow annuals, they’re not at all invasive. We should call them “welcome weeds.” Debra

Diane McCarthy May 9, 2009, 10:48 am

So gorgeous! I saw Mexican poppies, very similar, when I was in Arizona during an especially rainy spring. They stay wrapped up until the sun gets high in the sky, then unravel into amazing little sunshines. I wonder if they would grow here in 5b?

I’d love it if you’d try them and let us know. Re Mexican poppies, they’re gorgeous but invasive. It has been my experience that ornamentals native to Mexico thrive in my Southern California garden, but tend to elbow other plants out of the way. Debra

Tatyana May 9, 2009, 4:56 pm

Wonderful images and well written post, thanks!

You’re welcome. There’s a lot going on in the garden right now, but the poppies are simply incandescent. Debra

Don May 10, 2009, 7:44 am

Your garden looks so inviting. do you have the little lizards scampering around too? Your choices of colors are very nice.

Where’s the coffee?

And gophers, too, surfing my flower beds. All is not pristine in my SoCA paradise, Don. For more on the ongoing Gopher Wars, see my GGW profile. Debra

Gail May 10, 2009, 8:43 pm

I keep trying, but they sure don’t like my garden conditions…But, oh do they look luscious in your garden! They are the perfect color accompaniment to the sage greens and purples. gailthe

Hi, Gail — I visited your blogsite, and I suspect your Zone 7-ish Tennessee garden is too cool, shady and wet for CA poppies, which are sunbathers. Btw, I love your photo of the backlit lunaria, showing the seed pods developing! Debra

Town Mouse May 10, 2009, 11:33 pm

Seems like they either like your garden or they don’t. I have them everywhere, and start pulling the ones in the dry stream bed and under the fruit trees in early spring. But there’s always more. And more. Well, it’s a weed I can live with ;-> And I so enjoy the bees rolling around in them.

I’m fortunate my gardener knows the difference between immature poppy plants and pernicious weeds. Otherwise, I doubt I’d have any poppies at all. If I saw one uprooted, I’d mourn! Debra

Mama, Papa, and Son May 10, 2009, 11:52 pm

We are growing these in our garden from seed.
And you live in Nebraska! Good for you. Debra

Saxon Holt May 11, 2009, 1:42 pm

Nicely written Debra Lee. But you neglect to mention CA poppies are weeds. :-> This is hard to believe for those outside our state, but in my garden I use the time honored technique of “selective editing” these reseeding weeds, leaving very few actual plants. They sprawl and bloom prolifically.

Hi, Saxon — A weed by definition is “any plant growing where you don’t want it.” In my garden, I’ll take all the poppies I can get, although I do edit them from pathways. Debra

Wildsuburbia May 13, 2009, 5:39 pm

I too am in the process of “weeding” out the spent poppies, though I cut many back to get a second and third bloom through the summer. I’m also collecting ripe seed pods and keeping them in a paper bag so the seeds won’t scatter when they pop open. I can never have too many poppies!

Your pictures convey how beautiful our rambunctious poppy is. Thank you for the posting.

I’m intrigued that you can cut them back and they’ll rebloom. Yours must be growing where the roots receive water into summer, so the plants are able to send up new growth. Debra

Heirloom Gardener May 18, 2009, 11:29 pm

Beautiful!

Blackswampgirl Kim May 20, 2009, 9:20 am

Debra, I’m sooo jealous! California poppies should like my sunny, dry front yard garden as annuals here… but try as I might, I can’t get any of the seeds to germinate. :( So I’m glad you put up such gorgeous photos–I can “have” some vicariously this year, at least!

I’m so glad you enjoyed them. Go figure—CA poppies are among the few things I CAN get to germinate in my garden. Calendulas, alyssum and nasturtiums are the others (in addition, of course, to weeds). Debra

Courtney June 13, 2009, 10:10 pm

Hey I have a question, if you grow your own poppies in you own garden, can you pick them?