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Papaver rhoeas ‘Falling In Love’


When Rev. Wilks noticed a different kind of corn poppy in his garden, he decided to save the seed. Unlike most pure-flaming-red corn poppies, this one had a thin white edge.


Year after year, he planted from these seeds, saving more seed from the ones that showed the most unusual colorings and characteristics.


This old way of selecting seed takes time, but it led to the wonderful Shirley poppies, named after Rev. Wilks’s parish in Surrey. (Rev. Wilks also helped create the Shirley foxglove strain, still one of the finest today.)

Since 1880, when Wilks started out,  Shirley poppies have undergone even more transformations.


Originally, they started out as a flower that capitalized on the disturbed ground that farmers created when they sowed grain; that’s why they’re called corn poppies. (In Europe, corn is any grain; what we call corn in the U.S. is called maize in most of the rest of the world.)

The wild Papaver rhoeas is still a symbol for war veterans; in World War I, they filled the fields in southern France, where so many people died.


The poem In Flanders Field says: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row.” Probably in earlier times these flowers had associations with death and resurrection, since they die back every year, then come back so spectacularly from the tiny hard seeds in late spring.


After Wilks created the strain of Shirley poppies, artist Sir Cedric Morris selected his own strain, ‘Mother of Pearl’, from his Shirley poppy seed.

I grew ‘Mother of Pearl’ which has mostly pastel tints, but also reverts to the original red form.


I could use the rainy season to water and grow them, without doing any watering of my own. Papaver rhoeas is a Mediterranean plant, like most spring bulbs and herbs that are popular in the western world.

‘Mother of Pearl’ grew almost chest-high, and lasted a few weeks.


Unfortunately, I can no longer find ‘Mother of Pearl’.

But that’s all right. ‘Falling in Love’, a new introduction to poppy culture, is also quite beautiful, and shares some of ‘Mother of Pearl’s’  pastel traits – as well as their tendency to revert to pure red. All of the pictures in this post are of different versions of ‘Falling in Love’.

All Papaver rhoeas cultivars are excellent low-water plants. They germinate well in cool, rainy weather; I plant them in fall or early winter, and they oblige in late spring and early summer, a few weeks of luminescent bloom. Sometimes, if it’s hot and dry, I give them a little water to encourage them to last longer.

Mixing the tiny seed with dry organic flower fertilizer distributes seed better; I put about a teaspoon of seeds in a handful of fertilizer. Otherwise, I tend to get clumps of short, stunted flowers, and lots of space in between.

Shirley poppies have come so far that the original color combination Rev. Wilks noticed has been reversed.


When my ‘Falling in Love’ poppies finish, I’ll be sure to collect the seed.


I’ll be curious to see what comes of my own seed selection.

{ 19 comments… add one }

  • tina June 25, 2009, 9:04 pm

    Me too. A lovely post. I’d love to see a poppy chest high.

  • Monica the Garden Faerie June 26, 2009, 3:42 am

    I love the seedheads of poppies almost as much as the flowers themselves. Someone handed out poppy seeds at Spring Fling and I just sowed them in a new little area (cleared of buckthorn) in the garden. Timing is probably wrong, but that’s me all over!

  • PlantingOaks June 26, 2009, 6:17 am

    I read this somewhere about the flanders-poppies association, and have found it very poignant.

    As you said, poppies thrive in disturbed soil. They have very long-lived and opportunistic seeds that will wait years to sprout until they are exposed.

    What disturbs soil more than war? Shelling, trench digging…

    So the year after the war they probably had the biggest crop of poppies people had seen.

  • Karen - An Artist's Garden June 26, 2009, 8:21 am

    One of my favorites Pomona – I enjoy the way they self seed around, and how each year the “mix” is slightly different.
    Mine have started flowering this week, which is a bit later than the last couple of years.
    Such an informative post – thank you.

  • Pomona Belvedere June 26, 2009, 8:46 am

    Tina, the chest-high poppies were a sight. I still haven’t figured out what happened to get them to that height one year.

    Monica, I agree with you about the poppy heads, I’ve seen pictures of ancient vessels shaped like poppy heads so i guess we aren’t the only ones with the fascination! And I hope your seeds do fine, poppies are tough.

    PlantingOaks, I had never thought of the extra-disturbed-ground aspect but I bet you’re right. I wonder if there are contemporary records that mention it.

    Karen, my poppies were late this year, too; it was cooler and rainier later in the season.

  • lostlandscape(James) June 26, 2009, 11:06 am

    I’m looking forward to seeing your own “Pomona poppies” if you select through a few generations of them. It sounds like they’re interestingly unstable enough that they continue to present new forms. I used to breed orchids, and it was always interesting to see what new things would come along. Fine post, as usual!

  • susan (garden-chick) June 26, 2009, 12:07 pm

    It will be interesting to see what your seeds turn up. I love the Mother of Pearl, very delicate.

  • Victoria Wozny June 26, 2009, 1:31 pm

    Pomona – I love your poppies – I have a lot in my garden but it took meyears to grow them and now they are taking over. LOL. The colors are lovely and I especially like the mother of pearl. Thanks for sharing.

  • Grace June 26, 2009, 11:30 pm

    Hi~~ I love Shirley poppies and your photos are outstanding. To answer your questions: I grew my perennial Cornflower Centaurea dealbata from seed. It’s quite easy. I can’t remember where I purchased the seed but it’s out there…. Fourth of July rose doesn’t have much of a scent, its only drawback.

  • Karen June 27, 2009, 9:55 pm

    Hello – I have a few poppy varieties but I don’t think Shirleys are among them. Something to remedy, as the ones you show are gorgeous. I hope your seed-saving exploits will result in something really special. Why don’t most of us think to try that? Duh!

  • Cyd June 28, 2009, 6:04 am

    I love the history you give on your posts. I save my Shirley seeds too. I would love to have bigger ones. I’ll try your fertilizer method, sounds like a winner.

  • sunny June 28, 2009, 9:34 am

    Poppy gorgeousness! I finally learned those fall planting techniques a few years ago and wow! I bought a small package of mixed poppy seed from a house sale at Lynda Albiero’s. Don’t know who grew them but the mix is so unusual-pinks to wierd silky mauve and all bright red/white fading variations in between. Planted the last of them this past year. Do you just save the seeds of the ones you like or all?

  • Pomona Belvedere June 28, 2009, 1:46 pm

    I’m pretty much an amateur at seed selection, but I do remember that with ‘Mother of Pearl’ I tried to save seed from poppies whose coloring I liked (The first year, I tied embroidery thread of similar colors around their stems, to help me remember). But next year I just collected from the more pastel pods, and after a couple of years I found I was getting more and more red reverts to the wild form. I suspect that more patience at being selective might have netted better results. This time, I’m just collecting seeds from all pods, being as they all seem to sport. Next year I may try to get selective again. I need to read up on seed selection methods, or perhaps some of you out there have suggestions for selecting seed from a highly mutable plant?

  • wayne June 28, 2009, 5:59 pm

    wonderful read. thanks for taking the time to tell this story.

  • Kota October 24, 2015, 12:50 pm

    thanks betty .. this is the view out the kitchen and onto the bakycard where i want to build one of those box planters and fill with tomato plants. gets such great sun there in the corner. growing the seedlings in the living room right now.

  • Santiago October 24, 2015, 12:54 pm

    Hey Patty! ISO love this too! I am really on the fence about ISO. I try and keep it as low as pobssile too, but I HATE any kind of flash so when I can, I up my ISO to avoid the flash. Now I will admit, I do not own a great flash and would be in the market for one in the future, but until then, I up my ISO in taking photos with little or poor light. For instance, my photos of my daughter’s ballet recital were taken under florescent lights, so I upped the ISO to make up for the poor lighting. The photos were not as crisp as they would have been with my ISO lower, but I got great images none the less with the light available to me. I also like the artistic nature of the photos. I really feel too that in my own photography, not only am I using what is best practice for great photos, but also using what works best for the situation at hand. I know you do this too, but just thought I’d put it out there for those who may become frustrated with their cameras when they haven’t got enough light. You don’t have to go back to auto mode, just up the ISO and you can still shoot maual and get great results.

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