I feel a little bad about it, but I do have a favorite flower. Please don’t tell the others: I dote on them, too. I am so happy that the lilium genus is so easy to grow, their elegance springing up year after year in their many guises. Bloodwort is one of the first to show up for the spring party. Nubs of leaves pushing up like burly shoulders through the cool soil. They’re grey, tinged with a dirty pink; the delicate, flawless white flowers that follow shine among the leaves left from the autumn. The insides of foxgloves are secretive, full of hidden folds and structures whose function is known only to the bees.
So, who is it that makes my heart skip a beat whenever I see them? Who takes my breath away, to use perfectly dreadful romantic clichés? The poppies do, formally called the Papaver genus. Plant the right kind and you’ve got hardy, loyal pals who give you the most delicate, transcendent blooms so saturated with color you think they’ve been steeping in pigment since heaven opened its doors for business.
The P. orientalis branch of the family have a thistly, coarse leaf that you learn to ignore for the prize of blossoms in all sorts of reds, pinks and white. They’re perennial and once established, throw up about 30 3-to4-inch blooms a season. They look like lavish fairytale lounges for fey beings, with the giant pincushion seedpod surround by stamens made of velvet.
There are also annual kinds: Breadseed poppy or P. somniferum, source of poppy seeds and opiates. The glaucous, bluey leaves set off the intense hues of pink, purple sometimes white flowers. There is a type of somniferum called Danish Flag: red with white splotches that mimic its namesake.
Another red type is the Flanders poppy, the imitation of which is seen pinned to lapels of older Americans on Memorial Day. The real flower is infinitely more charming, the reds varying a bit from flower to flower, the petals the thinnest, most delicate of all, I think.
Then, there are the Shirley poppies. They are all in the pastel range, many rimmed with white along each petal edge, with wonderful variety among the plants so that each morning is given over to surprise and oohing and aahing.
Returning to the perennial crowd, P. spicatum is the favored of the favored. For some reason, I ordered seed even though they were supposedly hardy only to zone 8; I think the company promised they’d bloom the first year, grow them as annuals, you’ll be charmed. Well, they are as hardy as feral cats and much more approachable. They come in one color: a perfect, deep apricot that never varies. The four petals are borne on wiry stems which wave 14-16” above the rosette of plain leaves. The stamens are a complimentary yellow. They typically last for just a day, unless it rains. They self-seed, but are easy to dig up if not wanted. They are all over my garden, uniting it all in scattered dollops of creamscicle loveliness.
So, yes there is a favorite. Please don’t tell the others.