There is something so very satisfying about annuals that you can sow directly into the flower bed. Just scattering the seed in autumn or early spring and seeing the small seedlings emerge is a thrill in its own right. If the plants then go on to self seed and become perennials stars in the border, that’s even better. One of our stars is the corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) that we refer to as Cedric’s poppies in our garden.
Cedric Morris was an artist and plantsman with a eye for a good plant. He would walk along the cornfields and when he found a corn poppy with a colour that he liked (Because they aren’t always red, sometimes mutations happen and you get a white, pink, purple-ish or similar colour.) he would mark the plant and come back and collect seed when they were ripe.
According to Beth Chatto who grows these beautiful poppies in her garden near Elmstead Market in Essex, (Beth passed away in May this year, but the poppies are still grown in the garden.) Cedric tried to breed a blue corn poppy. He wasn’t successful, but some of the plants that come up from this strain has dark purple/grey flowers, almost the colour of storm clouds.
Cedric’s strain of poppies were sold or given to the seed company Thompson & Morgan and from it they developed the Mother of Pearl and Angel’s Choir strains that we can now buy in seed packets in many places. It’s wonderful to think that thanks to the efforts of Cedric Morris, these wonderful poppies can now be enjoyed by so many.
Our plants come from seed collected by the staff at The Beth Chatto Gardens. Beth was given seed by Cedric and they now grow in the Gravel Garden there. It’s nice to have a plant that is a memory of both Cedric, but also of Beth and we will try to keep the seed going here too. Off course the job of selecting or keeping the strain “pure” is never done, because just like a white or pink poppy can come up in a field of red poppies, a red poppy will sometimes come up amongst the pink, white and purple Cedric poppies. We have to remove these so that they don’t pollinate the others, because then we’ll have more and more red ones as the years go by and the plants will resemble Cedric’s poppies less and less.