Papaver rhoeas are the original single red field or Flanders poppy. Shirley poppies were cultivated forms of these which had various colours and no black markings in the centre, bred by the Reverend Wilkes in Shirley, Hampshire, UK. A very lovely form of Shirley poppy is Papaver rhoeas 'Mother of Pearl', bred by the famous English artist and gardener Sir Cedric Morris. He apparently set out to produce a lavender-coloured Shirley poppy but he ended up with a strain of poppies with many strange and beautiful dusky hues. Renowned English gardener Beth Chatto is said to have carefully preserved and nurtured the strain in her Essex garden after Morris's death and the seeds were introduced commercially by Thompson and Morgan in 1987.
On 25cm-high stems, they produce beautiful single translucent flowers with the texture of slightly crumpled tissue paper in October and November. They come in the most unusual shades, including dove-grey, smoky mauve, ethereal pinks, deep rich pinks, burgundy, maroon, blue grey and lavender-white. Many have a dramatic black central blotch, and some had lighter or darker rims to their petals. They self-seed from year to year. It is best to sow seeds directly into the ground in autumn - as is required by most poppies, which resent being transplanted. A sunny position with fairly good, well-drained soil is best.
I like all the variants of the field poppy, and enjoy seeing them naturalised in gardens. I particularly love the original red Flanders poppies. They can create a wonderful picture, such as the massed poppies seen at Red Cow Farm in the Southern Tablelands(picture left). They all seem to do well in our climate, because as spring annuals, they are not around to be affected by our humid summers, and unlike perennial poppies, don't need a cold winter to flower well. The red Flanders poppies have sombre overtones as well, being associated with Remembrance Day (11 November).
Papaver rhoeas flowers attract hoverflies to the garden.
Best grown from seed.