Are you a gardenerd or an anthophile? Our gardener seeks out her beloved Himalayan blue poppies


The fascination of Himalayan blue poppies

Anyone who has seen a Himalayan blue poppy remembers when they saw one for the first time: the sudden, stunned breath of wonder at the sight of this tall, graceful and intensely blue flower.

It’s love at first sight for some gardeners, but sadly, many of us have killed them. I’ve had one success, ruined by a kid’s soccer ball, and one fatality, probably the result of too much shade. Now I’m trying again.

I bought two young, small plants last Saturday, when the Rhododendron Species Foundation held its annual Himalayan Blue Poppy Festival. They came with very specific instructions: either all-day filtered sunlight, or morning sun and afternoon shade, rich soil, consistent watering, and protection from excessive heat.

But even the Rhododendron Species Foundation’s own collection was suffering last Saturday. In their blue poppy “meadow” most of the poppies were no-shows because of our roller coaster of a cold, wet spring followed by a sudden mid-May heat wave. The festival featured hordes of people, but barely a dozen blooming poppies.

So how could I protect my new plants from more crazy weather, which in summer might mean killing heat?

Here’s my admittedly eccentric plan: I recently bought a heat pump, which means I now have air conditioning. So I planted my Himalayan poppies in big pots and set them on my east-facing front porch. If it gets too hot, I can bring them inside my cool house for the afternoon. Cross your fingers, please.

Ordinarily, I’m a champion of the common, the abundant and the un-fussy flowers and shrubs. So my infatuation with these poppies made me question my sanity. But when I googled “plant obsession,” the results were all about houseplants, not poppies or asters or rhododendrons. My research did, however, improve my vocabulary: anthophilia is the love of plants, and those who do are anthophiles.

I also came across this: “Floraphile. The Urban Dictionary defines the term as a “gardenerd” or someone who is overenthusiastic and knowledgeable about all things garden related.” Which would you rather be called: a gardenerd or an anthophile?

The fabulousness and frustrations of late May

May’s great surge of plant growth is dazzling in its intensity, and in its promise of coming summer abundance.

The peonies in the front yard are opening, and the dog walkers, stroller pushers, and hand-holding couples walking past are pausing to admire them.

Tomato plants are starting to bloom, an early planting of lettuce is ready to eat, and the peas are halfway up the fence.

Best of all, the trees have clothed their bare branches will billions of bright green leaves – a green that will soon settle down a little for the summer. Everybody’s grass is still green from the rain. The whole world is green again, and blue skies are starting to seem normal. It all makes gardeners feel more alive.

But these spring-intoxicated gardeners may also feel overwhelmed and inadequate. Everything needs to be done at once – and sometimes more than once.

Our peculiar spring required many of us to plant seeds at least twice. Some early plantings didn’t sprout because it was too cold and wet; some later plantings suffered from the heat. Spinach bolted and went to seed when it got hot. Now something else needs to be planted in its place.

Meanwhile weeds thrived and multiplied, and slugs partied in the peas and lettuce every night.

But don’t be discouraged; the weather may have been abnormal, but it’s completely normal for gardeners to feel hopelessly behind the curve in May – especially a May with sudden, radical changes in the weather.

Aim to catch up by the first of July. There’s really no rush. When you’re in your garden, take time to just be still and enjoy our newly green world.

Be good to yourself while you’re being good to your garden.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers, and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at  jill@theJOLTnews.com 


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  • MyraDavis

    Thank you for another soothing, educational and encouraging message. You are doing good in the world.

    Saturday, May 27, 2023 Report this