This perennial dies back to below ground level each year in autumn, then fresh new growth appears again in spring.

  • Position:full sun
  • Soil:moist, well-drained
  • Rate of growth: fast-growing
  • Flowering period: May to July
  • Hardiness: fully hardy
    A really luscious oriental poppy with deep reddish-purple flowers in early summer and bristly, grey-green leaves. The silky, pleated petals of this popular variety have been compared to the faded silk of antique ball gowns. Although the flowers of all oriental poppies are ephemeral, they are easy to grow and each plant will produce several flowers. If cut back after flowering, they may even produce a second flush. Plant it in a sunny border, as part of a cottage-garden scheme, alongside grasses or late summer-flowering perennials, such as dahlias, which will provide interest when the plant has died back. ‘Patty’s Plum’ contrasts particularly well with silver foliage plants. It will need staking, as it has a tendance to sprawl.
  • Garden care: Cut back to ground level after flowering. Lift and divide large clumps in autumn.

Papaver orientale ‘Patty’s Plum’

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The tulips were a disappointment this year – many blind, many showing all the signs of tulip fire, many not appearing at all, and those that did going over with unseemly haste. So we didn’t get our proper fix of intense, outrageous late April/early May colour. But it is like any craving: sweat it out and it passes. The green, all those fathoms deep of spring green, takes over and eases the pangs of colour denied. But not for long. Because … pow! The oriental poppies slip from their sheaths with silky petals so saturated in colour that the entire garden suddenly spins around their intense axis. It is the moment when spring begins to evolve into summer.

Sarah bought some new poppies from Hereford covered market the other day. Most of our flower shopping takes place at market stalls or bits and pieces from health food shops, ironmongers or little nurseries that we happen to pass. There is nearly always something genuinely interesting to be found in these sometimes unlikely sources, and they are invariably cheaper than the expensive garden centres. The plants in question were the oriental poppy ‘Patty’s Plum’. These were not new to us or our garden – we first planted it three gardens ago in Hackney in the mid-Eighties – but what was shockingly, wonderfully new was the colour. Only one was in flower and it was a rich burgundy colour. All our other ‘Patty’s Plums’ have been a much paler, rather mauve colour.

Checking back, I see that I wrote in these pages in August 1997: ‘I have just planted a pinky/browny/plum-coloured one called “Patty’s Plum”, bred in the last few years by the Popes at Hadspen, which might sound unalluring but it is curiously satisfying and fills a hole in the spectrum that very few other plants occupy at all.’ In truth it was – is – a little disappointing.

It was one of those plants that you had to be told was beautiful and unusual. Your head admired it more than your belly. Well, the real thing is worth hunting down and you’ll know it when you see it. Anything less than voluptuous intensity in its satin petals is not as good as it can get.

There are 80 cultivars of oriental poppy, but most are shades of red and orange, so ‘Patty’s Plum’ stands out as an exception, although it is not the only one. The botany of the group is confused (or perhaps just confusing), but there are three species, Papaver orientale, P bracteatum and P pseudo-orientale. They are all pretty similar and all come from the same area between the Caucasus and Turkey. But their slight differences combined provide the material for the cultivars. So ‘Beauty of Livermere’, whose huge crimson flowers are the first to open in my garden, appearing a month ago, is more P bracteatum than P orientale. This manifests itself in the small green bracts tucked beneath the petals, its height – it can reach 5ft in our supercharged soil – and its upright stems, which make it good for cutting. On the other side of the path we have an unnamed poppy with huge bright orange flowers, which – judging by its relative squatness, floppiness, rounded blotches inside the petals and lack of bracts – is much closer to P orientale. If I am honest, I find this classification lark is only interesting up to the point at which it informs me how best to grow them. Beyond that, it is another form of trainspotting, which is perfectly laudable but not my kind of gardening. However, it is always useful to know how and where a plant grows in its natural state and what its parentage is.

I am not so keen on the very pink colours, but there are some wonderfully intense and full-on oranges and reds. ‘Goliath’ is a huge blood-red poppy; ‘Curlilocks’ has black blotches and petals that look as if they have been artfully shredded; ‘Wisley Beacon’ is a good orange, as is ‘Allegro’, although the latter is short and needs to be at the front of a border; ‘Karine’ is a genuine apricot.

We also have ‘Perry’s White’, which is actually slightly pink and has a spectacular deep, deep purple blotch. This poppy changed everything in the world of oriental poppies. Until 1906 all garden oriental poppies were vermilion. But Amos Perry, the nurseryman who not only had a splendid name but was also father-in-law of Frances Perry, one of my predecessors in this column, noticed a pink form among his seedlings, which he named ‘Mrs Perry’. He then tried to breed a white form from it but without apparent success. However, seven years later he had an angry letter from a customer complaining that the ‘Mrs Perry’ he had ordered had flowered white, thus ruining the effect of his carefully contrived pink border, so could he please have a replacement or his money back? So Amos Perry, showing diplomacy beyond the call of the average nurseryman, managed to swap the white poppy for a few crocosmia corms and at last had his white Oriental poppy, ‘Perry’s White’.

Growing oriental poppies

Check the blotches inside your poppies, and if they are round or square as opposed to oblong, and if the plant is not standing tall, then the relative lack of bracteatum in its parentage will mean that it should be supported good and early – certainly before it flowers. This will stop them falling over their neighbouring plants and reducing them to a soggy mush.

If you leave the flowering stem, a good seed pod forms, which in due course will scatter its seed all over the place. Given the way that the foliage swamps all around it, this is not really to be encouraged. It is better to shear it back to the ground and remove all the existing leaves to the compost heap as soon as the flowering has finished – and sooner if you are ruthless enough. This will let in light, air and water, and it will regrow to give you a second flowering later in the summer. In the interim, the empty space can be filled with a tender annual that will have enough time to get established before the foliage regrows.

Inevitably, plants will seed themselves as the flowers are produced over a number of weeks, and the first will have set seed before the last have finished – or you have got round to cutting them back. The result will be pot luck, and in our garden tends to be less good than the parents. If you want to reproduce the same plant, then the easiest way is to lift the plants in autumn, divide them and replant the pieces.

They also take easily from root cuttings. This is a slower method of getting new plants but much more prolific. Lift a plant you like in August or September and cut off sections of root about the thickness of a pencil into lengths a couple of inches long. Stick these round the edge of a pot filled with a very gritty compost so that the tops are just below the surface, and put them in a cold frame or greenhouse. A heated mat will increase the speed and chances of success. The next spring, pot them into individual pots with normal potting compost and keep them in the pots all summer, before planting them out in autumn; they will flower the subsequent year.

Oriental poppy flowers last about three days in a border, but last longer than that as cut flowers – seal ends of the stems in boiling water first.

· Observer offer Order a poppy collection consisting of the red ‘Curlilocks’, the apricot ‘Karine’ and the slightly pink ‘Perry’s White’. You can buy three well-established plants in 9cm pots (one of each) for only £14.95 inc p&p, or nine plants (three of each) for only £34.85 inc p&p, saving £10. Call 0870 836 0909 quoting ref OBMD13 or send a cheque made payable to Observer Reader Offers with your order to Observer Poppy Offer, OBMD13, Eastfields Ltd, PO Box 47, Terrington St Clement, King’s Lynn, PE34 4QB. Price includes UK mainland p&p. Despatch in 28 days.

· Is there anything about gardening you would like to ask Monty Don? Email him at [email protected] – marking your email ‘Aks the Experts’ – and read his answers in a special Ask the Experts edition of OM at the end of July.

Poppy, Patty’s Plum

Poppy: Direct Sow, Bare Root or Potted Plant Perennial

How to Sow and Plant

Poppy may be grown from seed sown directly in the garden, or grown from bare root or potted plants.

Sowing Directly in the Garden:

  • Direct sow in late spring to summer, after the soil is thoroughly warm, in full sun in deep, moist, well-drained, well amended soil.
  • Remove weeds and work organic matter into the top 6-8 inches of soil; then level and smooth.
  • Sow seeds evenly and thinly and barely cover with fine soil.
  • Keep evenly moist.
  • Seedlings will emerge in 10-20 days at 55-70 degrees F.
  • Thin to about 12 inches apart when seedlings are 2 inches high.

Planting Bare Root Plants:

  • Choose a location in full sun with deep, moist, well-drained, well amended soil.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 6-12, inches removing any debris, and lightly raking as level as possible.
  • The addition of organic matter (leaf mold, compost, well-rotted manure) benefits all gardens and is essential in recently constructed neighborhoods.
  • Dig a hole twice as deep and wide as the bare root.
  • Spread the roots out in the hole. Hold the roots suspended in the hole at the proper depth. Fill in around the roots with soil until the hole is filled.
  • Tamp the soil firmly to get rid of air pockets and to ensure that the plant is set at the right depth.
  • Water well to fully saturate the roots and soil.
  • Because poppies have tap roots, be very careful to not damage the root when planting.

Planting Potted Plants:

  • Choose a location in full sun with deep, moist, well-drained, well amended soil.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 6-12 inches removing any debris, and lightly raking as level as possible.
  • The addition of organic matter (leaf mold, compost, well-rotted manure) benefits all gardens and is essential in recently constructed neighborhoods.
  • Plant on a cloudy day or in late afternoon to reduce transplant shock.
  • Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball.
  • Unpot the plant and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root growth.
  • Place the top of the root ball even with the level of the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand. Because poppies have tap roots, be very careful to not damage the root when planting.
  • Use the plant tag as a location marker.
  • Thoroughly water and apply a light mulch layer on top of the soil (1-2 inches) to conserve water and reduce weeds.

Latin Name Pronunciation: pah-pah’-ver

Oriental Poppies are one of the most brilliant herbaceous perennials to grace the early summer garden. The flowers appear to be fashioned of crepe paper and can be more than 6″ across on stems to 3′ in height. Compact varieties such as ‘Peter Pan’ and the delicious ‘Watermelon’ are also available. Colors vary from true neon hues to gorgeous pastels. The bristly leaves turn brown in early summer and disappear entirely, reappearing in early fall. Avoid a hole in the garden by placing Oriental Poppies behind large perennials like Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila), Siberian Iris or herbaceous Peonies, or simply fill in with shallow-rooted annuals like Nicotiana or Cosmos. Oriental Poppies will not grow in the hot, humid summers and clay soils of the South.

Please Note: The plants have long, carrot-like roots, and the bareroot Poppies we ship should be planted with 3″ of soil over the crown (as indicated on our plant labels). Dig a hole that’s deep enough to accommodate the roots, up to 10-12″ deep. Shallow planting is often the cause of failure, as is soil that is too wet.

Light/Watering: Plants need a full 8 hours of sun to flower well. While they are drought tolerant once established, give them an inch of water a week when in bud or bloom. Do not overwater when plants are dormant.

Fertilizer/Soil and pH: Poppies need a well-drained soil close to neutral, so gardeners with acid soil may want to add lime. Soil should have a pH of 6.5 to 7.0 and be well drained, as plants will not tolerate wet soils in winter, which rot the fleshy roots. Apply a slow-release fertilizer in spring, or side-dress with compost or aged manure. When planting bareroot plants, soil should be deeply prepared and the crown covered with 3″ of soil.

Pests/Diseases: Oriental Poppies are seldom bothered by insects or disease. During extended wet weather buds may blacken and fail to open. Fungicides may be employed to help prevent this problem.

Companions: Plant behind large perennials like Siberian Iris, Baby’s Breath or herbaceous Peonies to camouflage the hole left behind when Poppies go dormant in summer. Filling in with annuals such as Nicotiana or Cosmos is also effective.

Reflowering: Since deadheading does not reward the gardener with repeat bloom, you may choose to leave the flowers on the plant for the interesting seed pods that follow.

Dividing/Transplanting: Poppies have deep taproots that may make transplanting a challenge. Division is needed only every 5 years or so and the best time to divide or transplant is in August when plants are dormant.

End of Season Care: Leave any new foliage on the plant. When soil has frozen to an inch deep, apply evergreen boughs or pine needles to buffer soil temperature and help prevent the crowns from being heaved out of the soil.

Calendar of Care

Early Spring: Check soil pH and adjust to 6.5 to 7.0 if needed. Apply a slow-release fertilizer or side-dress with compost or aged manure.

Mid-Spring: Apply a fungicide if extended wet weather has caused plants to become diseased.

Summer: Plant annuals to fill in holes left by dormant plants if needed. Do not overwater dormant plants. Divide or transplant Poppies in August when they are dormant.

Winter Protection: In the fall leave new foliage alone, and mulch with a loose material like evergreen boughs or pine needles after the soil has frozen to a depth of 1″.

Plant Finder

Patty’s Plum Poppy flowers

Patty’s Plum Poppy flowers

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Height: 30 inches

Spacing: 18 inches


Hardiness Zone: 2a

Other Names: Oriental Poppy


This exquisite selection is sought after for good reason; the numerous six inch wide ruffled plum purple to lavender flowers display contrasting blotches and deep purple centers; stunning when massed in mid-border plantings

Ornamental Features

Patty’s Plum Poppy features bold plum purple round flowers with lavender overtones, deep purple eyes and a black blotch at the ends of the stems from early to mid summer. The flowers are excellent for cutting. Its deeply cut ferny leaves remain grayish green in colour throughout the season. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.

Landscape Attributes

Patty’s Plum Poppy is an open herbaceous perennial with tall flower stalks held atop a low mound of foliage. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other garden plants with less refined foliage.

This plant will require occasional maintenance and upkeep, and should only be pruned after flowering to avoid removing any of the current season’s flowers. Deer don’t particularly care for this plant and will usually leave it alone in favor of tastier treats. Gardeners should be aware of the following characteristic(s) that may warrant special consideration;

  • Self-Seeding

Patty’s Plum Poppy is recommended for the following landscape applications;

  • Mass Planting
  • General Garden Use

Planting & Growing

Patty’s Plum Poppy will grow to be about 24 inches tall at maturity, with a spread of 24 inches. When grown in masses or used as a bedding plant, individual plants should be spaced approximately 18 inches apart. It grows at a fast rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 5 years. As this plant tends to go dormant in summer, it is best interplanted with late-season bloomers to hide the dying foliage.

This plant does best in full sun to partial shade. It prefers dry to average moisture levels with very well-drained soil, and will often die in standing water. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution, and will benefit from being planted in a relatively sheltered location. Consider applying a thick mulch around the root zone in winter to protect it in exposed locations or colder microclimates. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America.

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