The Blue Poppy

In 1913, Captain Bailey of the British army collected an incomplete specimen of the spectacular Himalayan blue poppy in Tibet. It was thought to be a new species and hence named Meconopsis baileyi. Eleven years later, Frank Kingdon-Ward returned to the Tsang-Po Valley and collected seed of the same species. The seeds he sent to England bloomed soon after and created a sensation at the Chelsea Flower Show. Jennie Butchart obtained seeds and found her Vancouver Island conditions ideal for this stunning perennial (later renamed Meconopsis betonicifolia). When Bailey visited Jennie, he was gratified to see his poppy blooming vigorously in her garden.

How to sow: Germinate seed in semi-darkness at a temperature around 17°C (63°F). Use sterilized containers, pasteurized soil, and sow the seed lightly to allow space between seedlings, as they are prone to damping off. Cover with a thin layer of vermiculite to keep moist. To water, soak from underneath, keeping the soil moist during germination, then allow partial drying between watering once the seedlings appear. Approximately two weeks after germination, move seedlings to a cooler, well-shaded site.

“We sow our blue poppy seed in September and then overwinter in the greenhouse at 10°C (50°F) until January or February,” says Cindy Hamilton, greenhouse technician at The Butchart Gardens. Blue poppy seed can also be started under a cold frame outdoors, provided there is no danger of frost. “We find the best trick for sowing is to use the freshest seed possible. Our soil mix consists of approximately 3 parts soil, 1 part peat, 1/2 part sand and 1/4 perlite.”

How to grow: Transplant seedlings to individual 7.5-cm (3 in.) peat pots at the two-leaf stage. Finally, when two or three matchbox-size leaves have developed, plant outside in a cool, well-shaded location, with adequate and even moisture and shelter from strong winds, still in the peat pot so roots are not disturbed. Lastly, pinch off buds in the first year to achieve a stronger plant in the second. This perennial is hardy to zone 3.