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