Peter Corlett's statue of Weary Dunlop. Photo by Kim McKenzie

Image: Weary Dunlop in Kings Domain, Melbourne. Photo by Kim McKenzie

When I think of the Remembrance Day poppy the image that springs to mind is Peter Corlett’s statue of Weary Dunlop in Kings Domain in Melbourne. The poppy association with war began with John McCrae’s poem In Flanders fieldsHe wrote the poem in Belgium in 1915 where, as a medical officer with the Canadian Army, he saw red field poppies (papaver rhoeas) growing in the otherwise devastated landscape of the battlefield in Ypres.

McCrae’s poem inspired YMCA leaders to sell poppies to support veterans and their families after WW1 and the poppy in the lapel has now become synonymous with war memorials. Before In Flanders fields, the poppy was associated in western literature with sleep and death (remember ‘The Deadly Poppy Field’ chapter of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?). The poppy in question here is p. somniferum, more commonly known as the opium poppy.

Growing poppies

The poppy you are most likely to see growing in Australia is the Iceland poppy (p. nudicaule). Mary Moody (The Gardener’s Companion) recommends you sow the seed in late summer to flower in late winter and spring. The tip to promote long flowering from the ABC’s gardening website is to swap from a high nitrogen liquid fertiliser to a high potassium fertiliser once the plants are about 10cm across.

The opium poppy is the source of poppy seeds and poppyseed oil, as well as opium, but it is only legal to grow it in Australia if you have a licence. Having said that, the opium poppy produces loads of seeds and the poppy is a pretty robust flower, so there’s a good chance there is a poppy or two growing in a garden near you. To identify an opium poppy: it will have bluish-greenish-greyish leaves and stems and white, mauve or red flowers. There are a lot of commercial poppy farms in Tasmania, which is one of the world’s main producers of poppies for medicinal purposes.

The Flanders Poppy is considered a weed by grain farmers in Europe but it’s not listed as a noxious weed in Australia, so if you fancy planting your own poppy field, go for it.

Speaking of war and remembrance…

Read Robert Nelson’s Remembrance Day article in The Age in which he asks why we don’t remember the bravery of those who refused to fight in WW1.

And if you’re in Castlemaine, check out Ben Laycock’s Hero 1 and Hero 2 at Lot 19: ‘Lest we forget’

Gardening at night

…is a segment of Dancing About Architecture broadcast on 94.9MAINfm Thursday 7-8pm and repeated Sunday 9-10am


The Gardener’s Companion by Mary Moody, New Holland Publishers 2001

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