Monday, 7 May 2012

The one armed man and the blue poppy

the book courtesy of
Last weekend I had some time on my hands on the long journey up to Dublin so I took out a book I have had for a while, but had never got around to reading. It was given to me by a strange but funny group I once taught gardening to. I think they were the most mis-matched bunch of people you could ever hope to put together! They were based in a community house, in a rough estate, but there was something lovely about them all and I enjoyed the weekly get togethers, passing out tattooed toughies walking scary dogs and small kids that could make Mike Tyson cry on my way to the house. After a while this all became part of the local "SCENERY" and I worried less about the van being there when I got back and more about the weather, affecting how much we could get done that day.

Over the course of many weeks we built a vegetable garden, sowed seeds, cleared a dumping ground of weeds and broken beer bottles and planted trees and flowers. Months later my heart swelled with pride when I saw in the newspaper that the estate had been highly commended by the tidy town committee and they never looked back since.

The group I had were all at different stages of life, with their own sets of obstacles to overcome. One lady rarely spoke, hadn't left the house in years, yet her neighbours and family were delighted that she came faithfully to us each week. A young girl in her early 20s was working in a menial job being bullied by her boss and desperately looking for a decent job working for a kinder person.She was very soft hearted and apt to tears, and it was truly a horrible person who would take full advantage of it. Paddy was the daddy of the group, he looked after everyone was kindhearted and good natured and an excellent gardener. Every thug on the estate respected him. Others had mental illnesses and physical handicaps-we even had PJ our very own one armed man!

Angels choir poppy from Flickr by Lynda 2008
One day PJ went missing and a few set off in search of him. Our young girl was very sweet and innocent and made her way up the town stopping everyone asking them if they had seen a one armed man! It caused great consternation among the daytime shoppers who I'm sure thought she was some kind of lunatic, and by the time PJ reappeared, having been on a "mission for God" to the local Church the whole town was in an uproar! Still he took it all in good part, he was that type of guy, nothing ever fazed him. He was a hell of a man with a shovel too! I know how crazy it sounds but believe me its true!

Anyway back to the book which is a lovely pocket book sized collection of essays and stories from famous people including gardeners on their favourite plants. I picked out the one by Christopher Lloyd, thinking of Charles and how he liked to read his weekly articles in the guardian.It was all about Poppies, which ones to grow and why, very timely as I have about 10 packets including his highly recommended "angels choir" to scatter in the upper garden this month. But then I saw the very first entry, simply called Meconopsis by Wayne Winterrowd and  it turned out to be about menoconopsis betonicifolia, the the fabled blue Himalayan poppy.

Tim taken from his daughters facebook page
The story begins with the gift of a clump of these poppies to the new gardener by an old hand in a garden in Vermont. This is exactly what happened to me when Tim in Knockpatrick gardens gave me, and my lucky class who visited that day, the present of blue poppy seedlings that he had raised himself. I laughed as I read the account in the book of the sage advise given to the novice gardener by the old hand " but pinch out the first flower bud. You must pinch out the first flower bud"

What a dilemma I thought! waiting for this 4 ft high stem with a magnificent 3 inch bloom and you have to deliberately pinch it out the first year! It turned out that if you didn't pinch it out the plant would pack up and die, pinching it out meant keeping the plant in leaf for another year making sure it became a reliable perennial in the long run, producing more and more blue poppies with each passing year.

So I sympathised with him, and laughed at the pain of it all until I walked past Tim's blue poppy plants in my own garden a few days later and saw...the first flowers budding up from the base!! O No!! Now its my fecking dilemma too!! I am sorely tempted to ring Tim and ask his advise but I don't want to bother him either, its one of my pet hates getting ridiculous phone calls about what to do from some inconsiderate person on a Bank Holiday afternoon (not you guys!), bad students, obviously!!!! I looked up the internet but beyond the mention in this book I cant find the answer for growing the poppy on this side of the world. This pinching out business dosent surprise me though, last year I had an education on it talking to a guy who grows show winning dahlias.

the dilemma, to pinch out or not?
In the end I chose the middle ground and left Tim a message. Once I figure out if this pinching out is needed I will pass on Tim's words of wisdom to you all. I would really like to know who got these plants last year when we were visiting Knockpatrick and how they fared out for you? My other purchase from Helen and Tim was a rare and very beautiful form of Peruvian lily that flowered non-stop its first year and has already leafed up beautifully this year again. Hopefully I will be taking a class to Knockpatrick in the next two months so even if I do have to pinch out the first of my lovely poppies I will be able to enjoy them at Tim and Helens house. This ties in beautifully with the writers musings in the book when he quotes Eleanor Perenyi, a very opinated American garden writer who wrote that she " would give anything for a glimpse of it, even in someone else's garden".


  1. Marie,
    Only one blue poppy plant made it out of those I was given that day in Knockpatrick.....however, it looks pretty still in a pot, but no sign of a bud. I'll be interested to hear what TIm has to say.....As my soil is so limey, i'm not sure what to do....probably leave it in the pot???? i think. By the way, my foxglove seedlings are coming along.......hopefully that will still be the case after i transplant them (soon)!!! Can i plant out my pumpkins now....i have two plants in pots that i started way too early by the sounds of it, but are quite big now.....

  2. Eliza in case you didnt get my mail as it seems to be a bit dodgy I hear the blue poppies want three things, moisture, dappled shade and acid soil (or good leaf mould). I was thinking I actually have no place for them, apart from having limey soil, but once I get some shade going the noth facing bank might be good-except that I would never get to see them unless I'm coming home. The trials and tribulations of life!!