About Perennial Poppies: Every perennial gardener knows that absolutely nothing makes the spectacle of bloom that is made every year by the big perennial poppies. With crepe-like flowers up to 8 or even 10" across, "oriental poppies" make the biggest show of the year in perennial gardens everywhere. The basic common one is always orange, but today, hybrids of all kinds of shades are available.
Growing Poppies: First of all, there are only a few types of poppies of interest to gardeners and the types are sometimes confused. Here they are:
"Oriental Poppies" These are the Perennial Poppies shown on this page. They're called "oriental" since the botanical name is "Papaver orientale" Papaver is the name for the poppy genus, and this species---the garden perennial, is Papaver orientale.
"Red Poppies" are the much smaller bright red and pink annuals, a very famous wildflower in Europe and the Middle East. The Latin name is Papaver rhoeas. We sell seed for that easy-to-grow poppy in our Wildflower Seed Encyclopedia on this website. In fact, Red Poppy is always our No. 1 best-selling wildflower seed.
"Opium Poppies" These are the famous ones from which opium, heroin, and other drugs are made. They are also the poppies that produce the seeds used in baking--your next "poppy seed bun" will feature them! The opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is an annual, and has flowers as large as the perennial. They are rarely grown in the US, for obvious reasons.
For Perennial Gardens: Back to the poppies at hand--the beautiful perennial versions. They all grow about 2 to 3 ft. tall, bloom in late spring, feature bristly foliage, and die down after blooming. During their spectacular bloom, they produce huge 4-petaled flowers which open wide, mostly with dramatic black centers. Best of all, once once established, Perennial Poppies or Oriental Poppies are some of the longest-lasting, hardiest perennials you can grow. In fact, I have seen old abandoned gardens totally overgrown by weeds and grasses, and there in the middle of it all, the only flower plant usually left is an oriental poppy still blooming beautifully. They are tough enough to ward off almost anything once they're growing well.
The roots are fleshy, somewhat like a daylily's, and once they're planted, they don't like to be moved. So choose your spots well. They like full sun, and make wonderful show-pieces for the front of your border.
One thing to remember. Unlike other perennials, after their fabulous bloom, the whole plant dies down, sort of like a tulip or daffodil. This means you're going to have open spaces during midsummer in those spots in your garden. A great way to fill in the spaces once your poppies are gone is to have some annuals waiting to pop in. Move in petunias or marigolds, or any other sunloving annual, and it'll fill the spaces, and add color for you the rest of the season. The following spring, your poppy plants will be back up stronger than ever, with big leaves and fat buds just waiting to open into your favorite flowers.