Friday, July 25, 2008


It's hot and dry. The spring flowers are long gone. The poppies were showy for several months. At first, their floating orange petals held up on lush green foliage. Toward the beginning of June, several heat spells later (and no more rain), the orange still blazingly bright, but the foliage darker, browner, wiry.

Where seedheads were allowed to mature and disperse, there will be seeds waiting for the next winter rains...

In May, as the Childs box had peaked, I went by with a pair of trimmers and cut the plants close to the ground.

In the next weeks, a heat wave arrived. The window box began to flower anew, but in a more sedate and mature sort of way. 

As I sat at my desk, occasionally, I was startled by small black pellets raining down on me. Living in an old house is constant work. Things are constantly falling apart, paint peeling, water dripping, bugs eating.... I asked my family whether they knew what was falling from the ceiling. We saw no leaks, no chipping paint, no wierd bugs... 

Then it occurred to me that the small black pellets were simply poppy seeds--seedheads I had saved from the Childs window box were literally exploding as the temperature rose. The curved shape that the seedheads twist into as they dry turns each one into a coiled up spring. When it's just dry enough, the spring shoots tens of little black pellets bouncing off the walls with incredible energy. They would make the sound of tens of little pins dropped to the ground-- but more exuberant.

I packaged up some of these seeds, and distributed them at the Farmlab talk. 

"These seeds are from first generation urban poppies grown in the planter of Child's Moving Company on York Boulevard. According to Judith Larner Lowry, chronicler of native plant gardening, one botanist counted 70 different subspecies of California poppies existing in the wild. At one time, it's possible that there were even more subspecies than that: each type adapted to locally specific conditions of water, soil, etc.

"Right now, we can only guess at what the subspecies that grew near your own neighborhood was like. Plant these seeds, and allow the poppies to reseed year after year. Before you move on, pass on the love of wildflowers to a trusted neighborhood to look after the plot. Make sure that before they pass on, they find another neighborhood to tend the plot. In several hundred years, maybe a new locally specific subspecies might start to develop... one perfectly adapted to the urban soil and cultural milieu you have chosen for it..."

1 comment:

Arvind said...

When the poppy plants turn pasty white, cut their stalks to the ground without disturbing the fat taproot. They will sprout again and bloom again. With light watering once a month and this cutting back treatment through summer and fall, they will live for many years.