Peony Poppies

peony poppy (4)Ostentatious. That would be the best description for these garden beauties! They can stand up to 5 feet tall when they’re staked, and the 4-inch peony-like flowers absolutely hog all the attention in the garden when they’re in full bloom. They are a type of Shirley poppy, so they are annuals and must be planted every year. (I haven’t seen them volunteer in my garden like the regular Shirley poppies will.) They like sun, but half a day’s worth is all they get in my garden, and they’re fine with that. Here in the San Francisco East Bay, bloom time is May, but if it’s a cool May, they can last into June.

So here’s how you grow them. The first year you have to buy seeds. After that, your own plants will produce enough seed for the whole neighborhood! The seeds are like pepper grains—very small—so I like to start them in a flat so I can keep an eye on them.

peony poppy (2)In September, sow them in regular potting soil in a greenhouse or protected place in your garden with a little bit of sun. Watch out for critters—remember fall is nutting season! Thin them out when they’re about an inch high and feed them a couple of times with a liquid fertilizer.

By the end of October, they should be ready to plant out in the garden. Now don’t be discouraged. You may not have that many and they can look pretty pathetic at this stage! Give them some nicely amended soil and fertilizer (I like “Dr. Earth”) and the nourishing rain will do the rest.

As they mature, it’s good to stake them so they can flaunt their beauty. Otherwise the heavy blooms tend to make them fall over. Before you do your garden cleanup, pick one plant to save for seed for next year.

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