Poppies for Remembrance


Calgary has a number of beautiful floral beds throughout the city, but some of my favourites are the poppies along Memorial Drive.

In 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a doctor for the Canadian army, was inspired by the resilient red poppies poking up amongst the fresh graves of fallen soldiers, thriving on the lime left behind in the rubble of war. This image inspired him to write the famous poem that most of us learned in elementary school, “In Flanders Fields.” Although McCrae was not entirely happy with the poem at first, its vivid imagery began a movement that would see poppies become a symbol of remembrance for our fallen soldiers, as well as a way to raise funds for veterans’ associations, both in North America and Europe.

In England, during the 1920s, some concern began to grow that perhaps memorial services for the Great War were romanticising war too much and that people were forgetting the havoc war wreaked on the lives of families who lost their husbands, fathers and sons. In 1933, the Women’s Co-operative Guild began to distribute white poppies as a symbol of a peace pledge to end war. With the advent of World War II, the white poppy movement died off for a time, becoming more popular again in the 1980s. In Canada, the white poppy movement never really caught on, although there has been enough interest to cause some dispute between the Canadian Voice For Women For Peace and the Royal Canadian Legion over the use of the white poppy in recent years.

Growing Your Own Poppies

Poppies come in many shapes and sizes, but if you want to grow Remembrance Day poppies, you are looking for a red Papaver rhoeas which self-seeds and grows to about 12 inches in height. This variety is quite hardy and easy to grow. In the red family, another popular and quite attractive variety is the tall, Oriental poppy or Papaver orientale, which I look at longingly in other’s yards, but cannot seem to grow for myself. I also have a Meconopsis betonicifolia or the Blue Himalayan poppy that grows, but does not bloom for me, although that might be because I have it in a full sun bed as many poppies flourish there, except for a few, like the Himalayan, which prefer cooler locations with a bit more shade. Other varieties include the Iceland poppy (P. nudicaule) which comes in shades of yellow, red, pink and white and grows to 18 inches, the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), which has yellow to deep orange flowers and distinctive feathery foliage, just to name a few. Be warned, however, that most Icelandic and California poppies will come back orange after the first season, regardless of the colour of the original plant.

Most poppies can be grown from seed in sunny, well-drained soil, with the seeds sown in the spring or fall. Leave the seeds uncovered, or barely covered, and water every few days until they begin to grow. Most varieties are early and short bloomers, so it is good to intersperse them with later bloomers to not have empty spots in your garden once they have finished blooming. Papaver rhoeas have some of the longest bloom times. Also, while many varieties self-seed, they do not always transplant well because of the long tap roots they develop, which is part of what makes them so hardy once established and quite drought resistant.

So, whether you are growing your poppies as an act of remembrance, a pledge of peace, or simply as a spot of beauty in your garden, you should be able to find great success with this flower here in Calgary.

Contributed by Jolene Ottosen for the Chaparral Green Thumbs

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History of the Poppy, www.legion.ca/remembrance/the-poppy/history-of-the-poppy

MacDonald, Michael, and Canadian Press. “White Poppies: Why a Symbol of Peace Have Never Really Caught on in Canada.” National Post, 9 Nov. 2017, www.nationalpost.com/pmn/news-pmn/canada-news-pmn/white-poppies-why-a-symbol-of-peace-have-never-really-caught-on-in-canada