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The different types of poppies and their meaning


The story behind the poppy is moving.  It is often seen side by side with our Sandhurst Memorial Teak Bench, and for good reason.  During the First World War, the devastation caused by the shells and the trudging feet of millions of men was complete.  Nothing was left of the battlefields other than pits of mud and trenches of sludge.  The first thing to grow amidst this destruction was the poppy.  From this time, the poppy had resembled not only the blood and fury of war but the moment when life continued when all hope seemed lost.

Memorial benches, like the poppy, are an excellent way to mark the memory of those lost to us.  You may not have known the meaning of the simple poppy we wear each November.  You equally might not realise that each flower brings with it a subtle difference in meaning.  Here we offer you a guide to these different types of poppy and their purpose.

What is a poppy?

Poppies have been cultivated since ancient times and offer beautiful blossoms, edible seeds and medicines.  Poppies are seen throughout time, appearing in mythology, painting, poetry and more – they symbolise fertility and decadence, as well as blood and memory.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that these only come in red with a black centre – they can come in tropical colours, pastel shades and even grey.

Poppies grow best in fertile, well-drained soil – and will flower in autumn or early spring depending on the climate.  If you live in colder climates, then plant the seeds as soon as the frost has subsided, and you can work the soil.  Alternatively, you might want to try two sowings – one in late September and one in early November, especially if you experience mild winters.

Poppies prefer to be grown from seeds from the ground, rather than in pots.  Poppies do not react well to being moved.  It is, therefore, better to scatter poppy seeds thinly on the turned over soil and then rake them lightly – pressing them slightly into the ground.  Try not to cover them – as they will need the light to germinate.  Be aware – snails and slugs could consume every single seedling you plant.  Therefore, you will need to fight off this pest with snail bait if you want them to bloom.

Different poppies and their meaning

Legion of Honour Poppy

The Legion of Honour Poppy is the wild red corn poppies that were first written about in the poem about Flanders Field by John McRae.  In this poem, the poet reflects on the similarity of the blood spilt with the red petals. From this poem, it has become held in our collective consciousness, symbolising sacrifice and the sadness of war.  It is only relatively recently that artificial red poppies are worn for Remembrance Sunday.  The simple elegance of the flower demonstrates something of the dignity of the soldiers who made this sacrifice.

Hungarian Breadseed

Rather than have a profound meaning – some poppies are grown because they have a large capsule full of thousands upon thousands of crunchy black seeds.  The poppy seed is a favourite ingredient on bread in Hungary and many other Central European countries.  The flower itself is worthy of growing – as the lilac-pink petals look like they should be the wings of fairies. The flowers also work well as dried flowers within wreaths are loved because they last such a long time.

California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica)

If you want a poppy that offers a lot more hope in its meaning, then you should look to the native orange, which is the classic California poppy.  The bright golden-orange flower will offer a celebration of the arrival of spring – and are perfect in areas that need a lot of resilience.  The vivid flower is used most often on neglected land that would otherwise be barren.  It is happy to grow in hot and dry areas.  You couldn’t demand more optimism from a flower.

Shirley or Corn Poppies, Papaver rhoeas

This species of the poppy is also known as Angel’s Choir.  The name is a celebration of the sheer variety in the range of the genetic diversity within the Papaver rheoas species.  You can get double, semi-double, and single flowers.  These poppies grow in different colours – with some coming varieties bi-colour. You will be delighted by the cooler shades of dove-grey and lavender.

Anna Sharples

Anna is the marketing and office manager for Garden Benches - a premium supplier of high-quality wooden benches and other outdoor furniture.

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