It’s easy to grow the poppy that bloomed so beautifully amid the chaos of war

The Flanders poppy is the real plant behind the red flower which has become an international symbol of remembrance for soldiers who gave their lives during the world wars.

Corn poppy, soldiers' poppy, field poppy or Flanders poppy - whatever you call them they are all one species, Papaver rhoeas.

In the fields of Flanders in Belgium and in France and Gallipoli, red poppies were the first sign of life, colonising the ravaged fields after destructive battles had wreaked havoc on people and the landscape.

History of the poppy pin
After World War I (1914-1918), the Flanders poppy was chosen as a symbol of remembrance.: It was first taken up as a national emblem in the United States in 1920, followed by France, England, Scotland and Canada, then New Zealand in 1922.


Initially, our RSA bought French and English-made poppies. Some of the proceeds went to the French Children's League to support war-torn communities and the rest helped our unemployed returned soldiers and their families.

New Zealand holds Poppy Day in the week before Anzac Day in April but the other countries hold their Poppy Day to commemorate Armistice Day in November.

In 1931, disabled veterans began making poppies in Auckland and Christchurch and later the work was contracted to the IHC.

Now, the Christchurch RSA produces its poppies by machine. For the past three years the poppies were, controversially, outsourced to China. The Christchurch RSA is thrilled to have won back the contract to produce poppies until 2019.

This year, in true Anzac spirit, lifelike Australian-made poppies made an appearance to bolster New Zealand's supplies.

This beautiful poppy is considered a weed in some countries as it grows readily from wild seed and is common, as the name suggests, in cultivated grain fields.

Autumn is the time to sow or plant poppy seedlings. The poppy plants will grow slowly over winter, filling out in early spring, then put on a brilliant display in early summer. One plant will continue to produce many flowers.

Sow seed thinly, mixed with seed-raising mix, then sprinkle a very fine layer of mix on top of pre-watered soil. Press the surface to ensure the seeds have good soil contact. During this germination period it is important to prevent the soil from drying out. Aim to sow before light rain or showers are forecast later in the week. Sprinkle eco-friendly snail bait around to protect emerging seedlings.


I sometimes plant poppy seedlings at the same time as the winter vege garden goes in. Pop in a few plants on the perimeter of the garden or a nearby border garden. I give them the same treatment as I would the vege garden - full sun, and soil enriched with sheep pellets, rock dust, a little dolomite lime and blood and bone to ensure strong growth and plenty of flowers. If you are sowing poppies as wildflowers you don't need to fuss with fertile soil so much, as more plants will produce the same effect. After flowering, allow the seedheads to dry then collect seed for the following year.

Don't think you're planting poppies for their good looks alone. They are recognised as a great plant for pollinators by the Royal Horticultural Society.

Poppies make a statement

Scarlet Poppies are a real design statement en masse. They look beautiful among deep green native grasses if you feel like switching up your garden for early summer colour.

I once used them in a kitchen garden design for the Ellerslie Flower Show in Auckland and planted them in a raised bed centrepiece with lush herbs, silvery globe artichokes, velvety black-red day lilies Vintage Bordeaux and dark red nasturtium Black Velvet behind a rosemary hedge.

If you feel like a spot of guerrilla gardening, poppies can be beautiful in wild waste areas, such as forgotten-about urban lots and in disturbed soil along roadsides.

At our section in Swanson we sowed beneficial insect wildflowers including Flanders poppies in the disturbed soil when planting our fruit trees a few years ago. Everything flowered beautifully the first year. In the second year the only flowers to set seed again when confronted with a kikuyu grass invasion were the Flanders poppy and mallow. It was a lovely surprise to see a flash of colour among the long grass.

Growing poppies is a beautiful addition to the garden, but it is also a powerful way to have your own area for remembrance at your place or in your community to recall those who made the ultimate sacrifice.