Steele: Special meaning carried by poppies

Of impact were the masses of glorious red poppies lining the country roads – especially when told they were wild Flanders poppies.

  • Nov. 13, 2012 8:00 p.m.

I first saw Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeas) in England in1969.

My husband and I had been invited down from London, where we were working, to stay in a thatched-roofed cottage near Salisbury.

This intrigued me as my grandparents, William and Margaret Hughes-Games, were married January 1915 on Salisbury Plain just before Granddad was shipped off to France with the Seaforth Highlanders.

Our hostess took us to see Stonehenge. Back then, there were no fences and we could touch the stones making some high school history come alive.

Of equal impact was the sight of the masses of glorious red poppies lining the country roads – especially when Joan told us they were wild Flanders poppies.

We had yet to have our first garden but asked her if she could send us seeds. Since then they have been in every garden I have owned.

They grow in any soil, prefer the sun and need little water. After blooming for about four weeks in July they reliably self-seed.

In 1991, we took our young children to northern France. Travelling on the fast train from Calais to Amien we suddenly flew by rows and rows of white crosses surrounded in red poppies. It was an unexpected and incredibly moving sight.

As a result, the bullet-riddled buildings and war memorials everywhere had far more impact on me than the historical sites commemorating Joan of Arc that we had come to see.

Although they do not have the same emotional impact for me, I love several other species of poppies.

Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) produce a stunning display of large, vibrant blooms in May and June. Colours range from my favourite, blood-red ‘Beauty of Livermere’, through shades of violet, scarlet, orange, pink, white and bi-colours.

Plants are two to three feet high and wide. Unfortunately, after blooming, the plant goes semi-dormant causing foliage to die back, leaving a mess, so it is best to cut them back and have later-blooming large plants in front of them.

These tap-rooted perennials are hard to transplant but many will grow easily from seed.

They are best in full sun, tolerate most soils and need little water.

Plants are drought-tolerant and deer-proof, making them ideal for Okanagan gardens.

California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) are another tough drought-tolerant poppy species that do well in our dry gardens.

Their cheery blooms will brighten any sunny spot from July through to frost. I just spotted some blooming Nov. 7 in my neighbourhood.

Native to California, they are commonly orange but yellow, peach and white variations are also available.

Plants do not survive our winters but reliably self-seed. They are about ten inches high and wide with feathery blue-green foliage.

They need well-drained soil but are otherwise very easy to grow.

Just Posted

Open houses regarding transit between Penticton and Kelowna

The meetings will be held in Summerland, Princeton, Penticton, Peachland and Osoyoos on Dec. 4 and 5

Kelowna Rockets aim to start win streak in return to home ice

The Rockets are coming off a 6 game road trip, and face the Regina Pats Wednesday night

The Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra returns with winter concert

The performance will include a tribute to Amanda Todd

Your guide to winter light ups around the Okanagan

From Vernon to Summerland, with a stop in Kelowna, we’ve found some activities for you to enjoy

VIDEO: B.C. legislature clerk, sergeant at arms suspended for criminal investigation

Clerk of the House Craig James, Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz on administrative leave

Former NHL player and coach Dan Maloney dies at 68

Maloney coached the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets

Ex-MSU president charged with lying to police about Nassar

Lou Anna Simon was charged Tuesday with lying to police during an investigation

Police looking into two more incidents at private Toronto all-boys’ school

Police and the school have said two of the prior incidents involved an alleged sexual assault

Police aim to prevent retaliation after Hells Angel found dead under B.C. bridge

IHIT confirms Chad Wilson, 43, was the victim of a ‘targeted’ homicide

Otter makes a snack out of koi fish in Vancouver Chinese garden

Staff say the otter has eaten at least five fish

B.C. lumber mills struggle with shortage of logs, price slump

Signs of recovery after U.S. market swings, industry executive says

25% of Canadians still won’t say they use pot, survey says

Statistics Canada poll says Canadians on average were 18.9 years old when they first tried pot.

Canucks’ 50/50 jackpot expected to surpass $1 million

The guaranteed prize for one lucky winner will be $500,000 minimum when Vancouver hosts LA Nov 27

Most Read