(WARNING! An extremely long and nostalgic post lies ahead. If you don’t want to hear why poppies, and the British, really matter to this veteran then skip ahead to the growing section)
I am very proud to be a veteran of the United States Air Force (Air Intelligence Agency). The Air Force paid for my education and taught me the skills that I still use to make a living today. It also taught me that duty, honor and country are a whole lot more than just three words. In short, the military is largely responsible for turning me into the man I am today.
In addition to shaping my character, the Air Force let me see the world. I literally went around the world in my ten years of service. I saw wonderful and amazing things and I met incredible people. But of all the things I saw, the thing I most remember and treasure is the November I spent in London.
One thing that stuck with me while attending the various Remembrance Day celebrations were the poppies. They were everywhere. On lapels, in wreaths and on tiny crosses that were placed on “graves” outside Westminster Abbey that represented the dead from every military unit (including foreign) that served in the defense of Britain. The poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance Day for several reasons. However, most agree the poppy was selected primarily because of a poem written by Lt Col John McCrae. Colonel McCrae was a Canadian doctor that wrote “In Flanders Fields” after losing his close friend and student during the Battle of the Ypres Salient in Belgian Flanders. His poem is a poignant reminder that even though war is slaughter and sacrifice the healing begins when the gunfire ends. In case you have never seen it before, here is this beautiful work:
Even though I love growing all of my plants, none of them fill me with so much emotion as do my poppies. Each Spring they remind me of the millions of soldiers, seaman and airmen that have died in defense of their countries. They also take me back to a magical few weeks spent in London with my British cousins. The poppies I grow are deep red singles with black throats and bright yellow centers. However, if red or single is not your style, I promise there is a color and style out there for you. Poppies are like roses; they come in every color but blue.
Poppies are so easy to grow. If you don’t have any, simply order or buy seeds from your favorite source. They are so adaptable that even if you order from a reseller on the East coast, there is very good chance they will do well for you in Texas. However, in my opinion, the best way to get your poppies is from a local gardener. I got my poppies from Carol Ann Sayles at Boggy Creek Farms in Austin. Since poppies are such great reseeders, everyone that grows them always has plenty of seeds to share. If you live in Texas, now is the time to stop and mooch those seeds from your poppy growing friends.
Since poppies reseed so freely, once you get them established you will always have them. Poppy seeds are tiny. Because of this, I put them out in a broadcast manner. Instead of trying to plant in rows I simply scatter them in the area that I want them in. Before I scatter them, I run a rake over the area I am going to place them. Then, once the seeds are down, I run the rake the other way. Then I water in and wait. If you want poppies next spring, you need to plant them anytime between now and October.
My poppies start to bloom in early March and they continue blooming well into April. By mid April the flowers have gone and the “heads” that are filled with all of those tiny little seeds are beginning to dry. The heads that are left after the flower fades are actually what’s left of the plant’s pistil. As the pistil dries, little holes open up around the top where the stamen were once attached. These little holes turn each head into a little “salt shaker” that dispenses the seeds whenever the wind blows or the plant falls over.
If you want to gather and save seeds, simply cut these heads as soon as the holes open. Shake the seeds into a bag and store for later use. I have been doing this for several years and I have now been able to spread poppies all over my property.
While many flowers are used as symbols for something, poppies represent the things I value most; sacrifice and service. Poppies are easy, reliable, carefree and oh so beautiful. Plant some now and you will be rewarded with a spring time show of beautiful flowers for years to come!