As Memorial Day approaches many of us think about those we know who are or were in the military, especially those who were lost. You see veterans groups selling Red Poppies for remembrance this time of year, as well as in November at Veterans Day. I have often wondered why this practice takes place. As a landscape designer here in Vermont, I always find it interesting when plants are used as symbols for something and not just part of a garden in someone’s backyard landscape. After doing a little research I found out that the practice of selling Red Poppies has been taking place since the 1920’s. Poppies as it turns out are native wildflowers in Europe, Asia and north Africa and as such were seen growing throughout country sides, along stonewalls and on battlefields during WWI. The famous poem “In Flander’s Field” was inspired by the magnificent display of these red flowers that was present among the fresh graves on a battlefield in France. In 1915 John McCrae was there visiting the site where he lost many friends and comrades during battle. He was taken by what he saw and wrote this while he was there:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Poppies are a beautiful short lived perennial that does well here in Vermont landscapes. They can be easily started from seed or you can purchase larger more established plants at local garden centers or nurseries. Plant them in the garden in a spot with full sun and well drained soils. They can tolerate relatively dry conditions as well. Poppies look best when planted in masses, but be sure to plant them in the back or among other perennials, as their foliage dies back to the ground after they have bloomed.