HIMALAYAN BLUE POPPY - Meconopsis betonicifolia
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The Himalayan Blue Poppy - Meconopsis betonicifolia is one of those plants that captures the imagination, but never fails to let you down once you start trying to grow it yourself. The problem with this plant is that most people try and raise it under normal garden conditions, making no allowances to adjust the local environment so that it mimics its native conditions.
Originating from the lush, mountainous regions of south-eastern Tibet, this almost magical plant will require a cool, sheltered position in order to survive. However, the trick with this particular plant is to be able to provide it with an acidic, moist, yet free draining soil that won’t dry out – especially during the summer months.
Taking this into consideration, when introducing this plant to the garden, the ground will need to be dug over deeply, adding plenty of humus rich and ericaceous (lime-free) compost. Meconopsis also has high nutrient requirements so it’s worth mixing in some well-rotted farm manure as well as periodically feeding with a dose of balanced fertilizer as the plant becomes established. Try and avoid any competition from tree roots, and the area should be partially shaded – preferably from deciduous plants - so as to protect the plants from mid-day summer heat, but also allowing plenty of winter light.
In its native habitat the Himalayan poppy is the product of its environment which – outside of the harsh winter months - is permanently watered by the melting mountain snow. Although tolerant of cold temperatures, sharp frosts and heavy snowfalls, if they are over-wintered in wet, soggy conditions, especially around the crown of the plant, then the root system of this stunning plant will fail with no hope of new growth the following spring.
Even with the extra work involved in preparing for this unusual yet beautiful perennial, it’s well worth the effort for the reward of those captivating blossom. They first start to emerge in the spring, producing a rosette of light green, hydrophobic leaves. Then in late spring, they will end up a flower shoot sometimes several feet tall. This will produce one or more terminal flowers usually followed by further flowers lower down the stem. If you happen to live in an exposed area you would be wise to employ some kind of plant support as unless they are surrounded by herbaceous plants of a similar height they are inclined to flop over in windy conditions.
The flowers tend to nod downwards but some will face upright. Like hydrangeas the soil ph will affect the shade of blue that the flower will display, ranging from a clear pale sky blue through intense pure blue and even on to violet shades. Alkaline soils produce more violet shades even in cultivars which would otherwise be a pale blue. Once the flowers have finished you would be wise to collect the seed as soon as it has ripened for propagation later on. The stem will then begin to naturally die back leaving the rosette of foliage to remain over the rest of the summer which will spread into a clump over the following years. Unfortunately any weak plants which may have not produced offsets will die back completely, unable to re-grow the following year – a problem typical of poor growing conditions. Keep an eye out for this as this is the reason behind keeping the viable seed.
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