Thursday, May 24, 2012

Himalayan Blue Poppies

     One of the first plants I became enamored of when I started gardening was the Himalayan blue poppy,  also known as meconopsis.  After growing these for more than 25 years I have concluded that my favorite is the one known as Meconopsis x sheldonii 'Lingholm". The picture posted above is of Lingholm.  This cultivar is a seed strain based on a good blue form of a cross between meconopsis betonicifolia and meconopsis grandis.  I have grown both betonicifolia and grandis, but I like Lingholm better because the flowers are generally the clear sky blue that makes meconopsis so great, while often the straight species will have mauves or darker blues in them. Also it seems to me that the flowers of Lingholm are larger and carried on taller stems. These differences may be slight, however, so if you can only find the species, they are good plants, too.
     Many people complain that they have trouble growing meconopsis or that the plants do not last from year to year. I have sometimes have had plants disappear on me, while others have lived a very long time.  I think that the trick to getting them to stick around is first and foremost to grow them in the conditions they like.  That is, to grow them in the same conditions that trilliums and cyprepridiums thrive in--moist, good soil, not too shady, not waterlogged, not hot and baking. Half day sun is good. They should not have to compete with greedy tree roots. Also, since meconopsis are beloved by slugs, use slug bait (I use Sluggo which is supposed to be non toxic to wildlife and pets).  I have read that some people advise removing the flowers from the plant the first year you grow it to promote longevity. I have never done this so don't know if it works or not. However, I can say that last year I planted 6 seedling plants of Lingholm from 4" containers in the garden and they all made it through the year, came up this spring and are blooming now.
     Meconopsis do well in the Pacific Northwest and perhaps the northeast. I was also told yesterday by a meconopsis expert that the best place to grow them is in Alaska. Who knew? I guess there has to be some recompense for living there!  If you live anyplace else in the US do not even try to grow them.
     Meconopsis are easily available from good nurseries in our area. If you can't find them in your nursery, you can always ask them to order some for you since wholesalers in the Pacific Northwest grow them. Lingholm is available as a Gold Nugget seed from Jelitto, which means that Jelitto has pretreated the seeds to make them easily germinate. I have bought seed from Jelitto and would recommend them. They are supposed to be relatively easy to grow from seed and I have even had them self sow in the garden.

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