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Papaver Orientale ‘Princess Victoria Louise’ (Plus Poppy Bonuses)

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One of the reasons I coveted this plant was the memory of some friends here, years ago, who had a beautiful garden. Papaver orientale was one of their volunteer plants; it came up and gave a fine bright display every late spring without any care or watering whatever.

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Since I’m easily infatuated by plants that give joy with little or no work from me, I took note. Papaver orientale was a plant to covet; reading catalogues, I found the lovely salmon-pink Victoria Louise, and knew she was it.

I’ve recently found that this casual use of oriental poppy wasn’t original with my friends. In 1874, The Journal of Horticulture, Cottage gardener, and Country Gentlemen said, ‘The double varieties of Papaver orientale, of which there are many colors, are very ornamental, and are useful for sowing in rough corners, where they often make a display without trouble.’

It’s interesting to know there were double versions of this poppy back then; I haven’t seen any modern ones.

But perhaps they are in the phenomenal list of Papaver orientale provided at Plantaholic. Until I read the Plantaholic site, I hadn’t realized there were quite so very many oriental poppy varieties; they have 150 types, and breeders are working all the time, making sturdier stems, longer flowering, and a list of other desirable traits.

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To me, the most desirable traits of Papaver orientale are their toughness (a zone range from 3 to 9 helps testify to that), their beauty, and their willingness to bloom freely without extra water from me.  An extra bonus is some of their medicinal qualities; studies   show that Papaver orientale can act as a central nervous system depressant and stimulant; that it’s a sudorific (that means it makes you sweat) and good for heart tumors. (Just a reminder: Papaver orientale is not the poppy that opium comes from. That’s another species, Papaver somniferum.)

Papaver orientale is easy to grow with little or no water because it’s another Mediterranean plant; the Mediterranean has the same rainy winters and dry summers my area does. In its wild form, Papaver orientale is native to northwestern Iran, northeastern Turkey, and the Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

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According to Digging Dog nursery, the variety ‘Victoria Louise’ goes back to 17th century Armenia. I wasn’t quite sure, though, if they were referring to this cultivar or Papaver orientale in general. It seems to me that there would be much earlier records on Papaver orientale than that, since the Emirates and the Ottoman Empire (which once encompassed all these countries) were plant-mad cultures. Our own garden records are often so eurocentric that they disregard the work of other cultures altogether, so it’s hard to know.

In any case, this western Asian plant has made itself so at home in North America that, in some places, it has naturalized. (I’ve never seen this, but it was on the government botany site, so it must be right, right? Has our government ever lied to us?)

If you get seeds, I would follow nature’s advice and plant them in fall. I was lucky enough to get my plant from a local grower (that means I’m more likely to get a plant that does well in my area); I have such a small garden, I often get only specimens of each plant. It seems silly to buy seeds if I want only one.

Papaver orientale is a tough plant; its zone range testifies to that: zones 3 to 9. It does need some winter chill to do well, so it might have a hard time in climates that get any warmer.

Each flower gave a little extra show; after the petals drop, the puffy almost-furry flower center looks like a flower in itself (a scabiosa on steroids, maybe).

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One of the things that helps Papaver orientale be so water-thrifty is its fleshy taproot, which acts both as storage for moisture and a deep-level moisture extractor. I have been known to water poppies if we have a warm spring spell, just so they last longer, but it’s not necessary for plant survival.

The One Stop Poppy Shoppe (more on this below) says that Victoria Louise goes well with rose-red, violet-blue, and soft blue. I also found that it went very nicely in a container with silver-green wormwood (Artemesia absinthium), another plant that needs very little water to thrive (and can survive with none). Both plants also need good drainage, a very common requirement for plants who sail through dry summers without water.

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Easy, flashily beautiful, and water-saving: Victoria Louise is a good candidate for a water-saving garden, in containers and out of them.

Poppy bonuses:

One Stop Poppy Shoppe  This link will get you to their multitudinous oriental poppy seed selection, but they have  many species and varieties. Fun to browse.

Sylvia’s black-and-white oriental poppy

{ 15 comments… add one }

  • Lynn June 8, 2009, 6:01 pm

    I’ll say she’s flashy! And yet I bet really soft in some lights. I can’t quite get poppies right, always waiting a bit too late to plant and getting just a few spindly ones. I’m saving what’s left of my Papaver somniferum ‘Hungarian Blue’s to sow in the fall. In upstate NY, they’ll get all the chillin’ they need! Nice poppy post :)

  • tina June 8, 2009, 7:12 pm

    It sure is pretty. I’ve tried so hard to grow poppies here but have found they need more sun than I have. Sigh. I’ll enjoy yours.

  • Pomona Belvedere June 8, 2009, 8:21 pm

    I think you’ll find the fall sowing works better. I get the thin spindly poppies when I don’t mix the seed with fertilizer; when they grow in clumps, they suffer from lack of root room.

    I understand about the sun thing. I did grow Papaver rhoeas in semi-shade successfully, but not the orientals (there’ll be a post on Papaver rhoeas toward the end of this month. These annualls come on just as Victoria Louise is finishing, at least in my yard.).

  • lostlandscape(James) June 8, 2009, 8:29 pm

    I like it! Do I detect a certain tulip-ness to this flower, at least in profile? The tissue-paper petals and central “scabiosa flower” though are quite different. It sounds like the perfect plant for you– Less work is a good thing!

  • Susie June 8, 2009, 9:06 pm

    What a color, I must try some. I’ve always loved the funky, fuzzy buds right before opening, maybe its the anticipation. Thanks for the post.

  • Sylvia (England) June 9, 2009, 12:15 am

    Pomona, I have several oriental poppies and wouldn’t be without them. They are happy in our gardens and don’t seem to mind the wet summers that we have had recently. This year seems to be really good for them and I see them in lots of gardens. These are really tough plants and can be difficult to get rid off because they grow from root cuttings – I would suggest this as a way of propagating them.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  • Monica the Garden Faerie June 9, 2009, 4:26 am

    Why do I suspect people “back in the day” weren’t growing poppies ornamentally?… In any case, I love poppies (especially their seed heads) and wish I had more full sun for them to grow! I do like ‘Victoria Louise’ though it seems such a formal name for the casual poppy! :)

  • Helen at Toronto Gardens June 9, 2009, 5:56 am

    I’ve grown ‘Victoria Louise’ — though I killed it trying to transplant to a less obvious die-back spot. The leaves, like bleeding hearts, turn yellow and nasty after flowering. Thankfully, the neighbour who I gave an off-shoot to still has his, and I admire it as I pass by. My sister Sarah just gave me ‘Helen Elizabeth’ (coincidentally, both my names) which is like VickyLou, but with no spots. Fingers crossed that it likes my home. Next door to me, my neighbour grows an incredible deep red poppy called ‘Beauty of Livermere’ — a rather liverish name for a show-stopping poppy. I can never get enough of it. Matter of fact, I leapt up to check and the first bloom has just opened. Must go drool!

  • Pomona Belvedere June 9, 2009, 9:01 am

    lostlandscape – Do you know, when I was putting up this post, I had a tulip-impression from that side shot, too.

    Susie – another fuzzy-bud appreciator! One of my favorite parts, too.

    Sylvia – thanks for your report from a rainier clime. This kind of poppy must just be widely adaptable.

    Monica – as far the records I can find go, people have been growing, breeding and seeking out ornamentals for a long time. The ancient Romans bred roses for ornamentals and had elaborate growing systems to extend the season. In the ancient Arab world there are records of ornamental plant-seekers sent out by the rulers to find new pretties. I’m pretty sure this goes back much further, since a lot of the Chinese plants that came to us (gardenia, forsythia, chrysanthemum, etc.) were medicinal plants from thousands of years back, which were then played with to make more ornamental forms. There’s also some speculation that, the moment people turned to agriculture from nomadism, they began selecting plants for near their houses – and while usefulness was one criterion, some evidence points to beauty as another. Life may have been brutish, nasty, and short, but people still had time for beauty. One of the things I like about the human race.

    Helen – thanks for acquainting us with yet more mouthwatering forms of this plant. It’s true, my whole V-L plant is withering back, but I just worked under the assumption that this is what they do, you plant something else nearby and go on. I’ll look forward to seeing ‘Helen Elizabeth’ on your blog.

  • Frances June 9, 2009, 3:30 pm

    Oh hooray, Pomona, I just bought three little plants of our Victoria and am thrilled with how it will look in a year or so. We have very many of the orange orientals, they self sow and spread underground almost too vigorously here in our similar wet winter, dry summer climates. It is rare to find them potted, with the taproot and all, so these were very small plants, but much more likely to grow to adulthood and hopefully spread like their orange cousins. Thanks!
    Frances

  • Cyd June 9, 2009, 3:47 pm

    You do the research and we reap the benefits. I have always loved poppies, this variety esp. I have about 5 different species in my garden. The hardest to obtain was the somnifurum. It did not reseed this year. I think the orientale are the most beautiful of all the poppies. I have the orange, pink and pale salmon (Victoria Louise), and am coveting a scarlet variety my neighbor owns. They are quite phallic before they bloom, just fascinatinating and weed-like.

  • Pomona Belvedere June 9, 2009, 6:48 pm

    Frances, glad to have been of service in your future-garden fantasies. I think VL will look wonderful in with your other plants.

    Cyd – another poppy fancier! Congratulations on your multiple species. When I move to a sunnier spot, I hope to have at least 5 species in my garden, too, not to mention many varieties. I hadn’t computed the phallic before-bloom part, but I get that now; actually, I think tulip buds are also rather phallic before opening.

    Good somniferum seed source: JL Hudson.

  • catmint June 10, 2009, 5:57 am

    Hi Pomona, yes poppies are wonderful, perfect garden plants. I just scatter the seeds and off they go. Any season, sun or shade. And they just keep coming back. I have dark pink opium poppies that you can’t buy, someone gave me some seeds years ago. I adore the flowers but don’t like the foliage because it is not delicate like those in your pictures, more like large soggy cabbages. I also love wormwood, it goes with so many things. Do you like the smell of their leaves? Many people don’t, it is strange and a bit pungent, but I love it.

  • wayne June 14, 2009, 3:42 pm

    I need to prow some poppies already. great post. maybe by seed this fall.

  • B July 13, 2009, 12:18 pm

    Just stumbled on this page–wanted to say that double poppies DO still exist. I grew some from seed last year (and hope that some of the funky poppy stems growing in the garden now will turn out to be doubles that reseeded themselves!). I grew mine from seed: “Peony Double Poppy” from Botanical Interests: http://www.botanicalinterests.com

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