Posted in Lessons Learned

The curious case of the California Golden Poppies

In front of my house are two brick planters, built as part of the house design. There are several houses just like mine scattered throughout the neighborhood. Being that gardening has never been my forte, and I have been known to do serious, mortal damage even to silk plants, the planters have stayed empty for the 3.5 years we’ve lived here. I’ve bought seeds to put wildflowers in them, but never quite gotten around to planting them. Mostly, I’ve taken the time to scoop out the weeds that have volunteered to grow in them during the rainy season, and left it at that. It wasn’t beautiful, but hey, it was tidy.  Some months back I decided that it was time to put some actual flowers in there, and I had an actual plan: I would grow California golden poppies there, in memory of my favorite Californian. So I ordered some poppyseeds from a seller on eBay, and waited for them to arrive. In the meantime, I raked out weeds and turned the dirt in anticipation of planting.

When they arrived, I had 2 packets of 50 seeds, so I put one in each planter. I researched the planting instructions, and they said to broadcast the seed over the dirt and keep them well-watered until they were established. In Tucson, we keep things well-watered even after that, but only if we want them to stay alive. It was 113 degrees yesterday. I think I needed some watering myself.

I sprinkled the itty-bitty seeds, just like the ones you see at the bakery, into the dirt, and then commenced to watering them. Of course, I didn’t account for the force of the water coming out of the hose, and as the water swirled, I had no idea where my seeds would end up. Oops. Well, I could thin them later.

I watered those planters religiously for weeks. This was more than a memorial garden; this was no less than an investment in life on my part. Taking responsibility for these plants, I was engaging in now and hoping for the future, for we plant seeds so that things will grow there.

But despite my careful watering, each day’s scrutiny discovered nothing but the dirt I’d started with. Where were my poppies? Nothing was growing, despite daily watering and quiet murmured prayers: Please grow. I need this.

A couple weeks passed, and I still had no plants, not even the slightest sign of plants; I was discouraged and sad, and ready to give up, but something kept me watering anyway. And then one day, the spray from my hose dislodged a big clump of dirt in a corner of one of planters, and revealed a handful of pale seedlings growing out of the corner, covered with dirt up until then. I was ecstatic. I wasn’t a failure after all! Of course, they couldn’t stay in that corner, so I carefully gathered the seedlings and replanted them, spreading them out and between the two planters. I had read that poppy plants don’t transfer very well, so I was guardedly optimistic, and counted on my loving care and the now accessible magic of photosynthesis to foster these little seedlings into the poppies of my dreams. And if I could even save a few, poppies are self-seeding, and eventually, I’d have plenty.

Despite my careful watering, some of the seedlings withered away under the desert sun, a few got bent during replanting, and of the two dozen plants I had replanted, maybe a handful made it. But I kept at it, and soon, those that remained were a bit stronger, a bit hardier, a bit more likely to bloom as actual flowers.
California Golden Poppies...some day.
More poppies, but they're not doing as well as the others.

As I watched them grow, I found that the plants in one planter were doing better than the other, probably as a result of how much sun they were getting. The second picture above gets more shade during the day.

Memorial Day weekend rolled around, and my folks were in town. My mom asked what I was growing, and I told her poppies. She said, “Are you sure? They look like sunflowers.” Unlike me, my mom is a plant person, but I assured her that I knew the difference between poppyseeds and sunflower seeds, and I’d definitely planted poppyseeds. She didn’t say anything else, but I could tell she was dubious. I figured I would know soon enough, and went out each day and dutifully watered my little plants.

When they’d grown to this point, I was more than a little confused.

They were awfully tall for California golden poppies. And the heads and the stalks on them just didn’t seem right, either. California golden poppies are delicate, slender little flowers. These were anything but.

It was time to do some research. First, I researched poppyseeds and sunflower seeds to make sure I hadn’t been hallucinating, and indeed, sunflower seeds look just like you’d expect, as do poppyseeds, and you’d be hard-pressed to confuse the two. Then I researched both to see if perhaps they were from the same family, and might look similar until they bloomed. But my info told me that poppies had slender leaves, and what I had most definitely did not. I was baffled, and remain so.

Finally, the day came when the flowers opened. And my mom was right. And I am still scratching my head.
The tallest sunflower

I have been surprised throughout this process to find that there are a lot of deep life lessons to be learned in gardening, and I cannot help but wonder if those who love to garden understand the mysteries of the universe better than those of us who don’t. Maybe I need to talk to more gardeners; they may have answers I want.

I have learned that planting is an act of faith, and an expression of trust. It is an agreement to be responsible for life: that of the plant, and your own as its caretaker; when you plant those seeds, you are bound together for the duration. I have learned that when we plant seeds, some will grow and some will not, and that’s just the way it is. Some seeds we plant will seem to have failed, only to sprout later, on a different timetable than the one we’d imagined. I have learned that patience is requisite. I’ve learned that sometimes you’ll do everything you know how to do, to the best of your ability, and it still won’t work out like you planned. And I have learned that sometimes the seeds you plant will grow into something else entirely, and you will not know why, or how, but they’re beautiful nonetheless. But I’ve already ordered California poppyseeds to try again. Trying again is a sign of hope, too.




I've been doing some form of creative writing since 9th grade, and have been a blogger since 2003. Like most bloggers, I've quit blogging multiple times. But the words always come back, asking to be written down, and they pester me if I don't. So here we are. Thanks for reading.