Monday, February 28, 2011

Gardening: Host a California visitor in your North Eastern Garden

Through the dancing poppies stole, a breeze most softly lulling to my soul. – John Keats

Eschscholzia californica. Photo: danlharp, Flickr ccl
It may be sunny now, but just wait. Another storm on the way for Nova Scotia today, so let's do some dreaming of warmer regions…

If you want a nice little plant to brighten your garden why not try California Poppies this growing season? They are readily available in seed packets at almost anywhere that offers annual seeds. Although a perennial in their native habitat, they are most probably a self-seeding annual in Nova Scotia. As such they will bloom the first year from seed. 

1896 illustration. Wikimedia Commons
I say a borderline perennial because the USDA rating is Zones 6a to 10b. I grew them in our garden several years ago, in less than ideal soil. Some came back from self seeding the following year, but a particularly vicious winter finished them off. Never mind, the seeds are inexpensive. And how can you not love a plant that likes crappy soil?

The descriptive content below comes from Wikipedia. It has been edited.
The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is native to grassy and open areas from California, Oregon, southern Washington, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico.

It can grow 5–60 cm ( 2-24") tall, with alternately branching glaucous blue-green foliage. The leaves are ternately (3 leaved) divided into round, lobed segments. Single silky flowers bloom on long stems, with four petals. Flowering is from February to September (in their native habitat. Here more like June through September - D). These delicate beauties reward you with colour ranging from glowing yellow to orange. 

The petals close at night or in cold, windy weather and open again the following morning, although they may remain closed in cloudy weather. The seed pods are lance shaped capsules 3–9 cm (1-3") long, which split in two to release the numerous small black or dark brown seeds. It is perennial in mild parts of its native range, and annual in colder climates; growth is best in full sun and sandy, well-drained, poor soil.

It grows well in disturbed areas. In addition to being planted for horticulture, revegetation, and highway beautification, it often colonizes along roadsides and other disturbed areas. It is drought-tolerant, self-seeding, and easy to grow in gardens. 

Photo: retro traveler, Flickr ccl
Medicinal Uses
California poppy leaves were used medicinally by Native Americans, and the pollen was used cosmetically. The seeds are used in cooking. Aqueous extract has sedative and anxiolytic action.

Extract from the California poppy acts as a mild sedative when smoked. (Now don't be doing that… I'm sure it's unhealthy.– D) The effect is far milder than that of opium. California poppy contains a different class of benzophenanthridine alkaloids.

California Poppies are a sow and forget flower that will reward you with bloom well into September. I think some will make their way back into my garden border this Spring. (Which, by the way, starts March 20, 2011 7 :21 pm, not to put too exact a time on it.)


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