Poppies and Darwin

California PoppiesMost people who have lived in California any amount of time have become familiar with Eschscholzia californica, whether they know it or not. It is after all the state flower, and it grows almost everywhere, both natively and cultivated. Yep, the California poppy is what I’m talking about. We have it in our garden, and it moves around every year, depending on where it feels like growing for that season.

But there are several different types of poppies, and the Papaveraceae family includes about 770 species of these cheerful flowering plants. I have always loved Oriental poppies, which are perennials, and tried growing them several times in San Jose to dismal failure for one reason or another. This year I tried some different types of annual poppies and had better results, although still some failures.

Heirloom Pepperbox poppyHeirloom Pepperbox PoppiesIn a carefully marked seed bed in our kitchen garden, I planted three varieties from Renee’s Garden: Falling in Love, which is a Shirley Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), Hungarian Breadseed and Heirloom Pepperbox, both of which are in the Papaver somniferum family. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that out in the sun and rain, Sharpie permanent markers don’t live up to their name. By the time the seedlings started showing up, the labels had disappeared and I lost track of which bed was planted with which variety.

Then to make matters worse, the weeds started growing much faster than two of the varieties of the poppies. I was clearing the weeds around the poppies that I did see coming up, when I noticed that under all the weeds another of the poppies was just showing up. I noticed this only after I saw little poppy plants mixed in with all the weeds I pulled up. Oh well, next year I’ll try and water the seedbeds and turn them over several times to get rid of the weeds first before planting what I want to plant.

Fire Pepperbox PoppyI did get one of the three varieties going, but it wasn’t until they bloomed that I knew which one it was. It turns out the Heirloom Pepperbox was the star performer. Most of these poppies are dark red although some are purple or pale lilac. There is one special one though. While so far all of them that have opened are single and an unfringed, one red flower decided to be different from the rest. I think this one special flower knew it was growing in a firefighter’s garden, and so it decorated itself with a flame like appearance.

Double poppyPoppies from Nilsen'sOver in the other side of the garden, in the long border (ok long for us, not by English garden standards) I had planted some poppies I found in a six pack at Nilsen’s. I’m not sure what species of poppy they are because I forgot to save the information when I planted them. But they are about 40″ tall, and feature large, dark purple, almost black, very double blossoms. Except for one. This one, in the opposite move of the Pepperbox poppy, decided he didn’t like the frilly look, and instead came out wearing only a single row of petals. Other than that, it totally matches the other 5 plants that shared the six pack.

I love these little surprises in the garden, and I love that there are 770 species of poppies. In our travels we have seen beautiful blue Himalayan poppies that we need colder winters to grow. There are the huge Matilija poppies from Mexico that need more heat and less water than Ferndale provides. We can grow the Flander’s red poppy and I’m looking forward to spreading some seeds given to me by a friend. I’m still determined to grow some Oriental poppies, and of course I can always grow California poppies, even if most days Ferndale fails to provide enough sun to convince them to open their bright petals.

All this variety, and the fact that one can see these changes right in your own garden, convinces me that Darwin was right. It is hard for me to understand how 46% of Americans don’t believe in evolution, when the proof can be found right in one’s garden. The alternative of not believing that genes and mutations created these varieties, is to believe that even though he’s been busy for over 2000 years trying to get us to stop killing each other in his name and hasn’t been successful at all in that endeavor, God took a little time out from his bigger duties to put a little fringe on one of my poppies.