Grow poppies for WW1 centenary

2014 is the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. One of the strongest images of that dreadful period in world history is the fields of red poppies (Papaver rhoeas), sometimes called the field poppy, corn poppy or Flanders poppy. Now these delightful plants are used as a modern-day symbol of hope every autumn and especially on Remembrance Sunday.

These wild poppies are often seen bringing a bright splash of red to cornfields, but they look great in gardens too. They are ideal for providing a mass of colour in a sunny area where little else will grow, and for creating cottage gardens, wildlife gardens or cut flower gardens. They are excellent for attracting bees and other pollinating insects.


The beautiful field poppy is a hardy annual, growing up to 40cm (16in) high and flowering from June into September. Being a hardy annual it is incredibly easy to grow, as you can sow it directly outside where you want it to flower. Sowing is usually from late March to mid-May. You can also sow in September and October to give plants that will flower earlier the following year.

Poppies prefer well-drained and poor soils. On heavy soils, or soils that do not drain well, add Levington Organic Blend Soil Conditioner. Prepare the ground well, add a little Miracle-Gro Bone Meal Natural Root Builder and rake to a fine tilth before sowing.

Scatter the seed over the soil, rake lightly into the surface and keep the soil moist. You may find it better to sow in rows, as this makes it easier to distinguish between flower and weed seedlings, as you know where the seeds have been sown.

Sow thinly, to avoid having to thin out the seedlings as they grow to avoid overcrowding. If necessary, thin out excess seedlings that are too close to each other so that they are 15-23cm (6-9in) apart.

Monthly liquid feeding with Miracle-Gro All Purpose plant foods during the summer will help increase flowering.

Deadhead as the flowers fade as removing the spent blooms will encourage further flowering throughout the summer. If the seed heads are left on some plants after flowering, they will self seed for future years, or they can be dried for use as indoor decorations.


Several gardens will honour those who died during World War I and will produce displays of poppies.

Birmingham City Council has joined forces with the Royal British Legion and the charity Thrive with a floral exhibit that will capture the story of life on the frontline. The display will feature important wartime memorabilia, as well as giant poppies and reconstructions of the trenches where troops were stationed.

Pennard Plants will be commemorating the outbreak of the war with two back-to-back gardens reflecting the times preceding and following 1914. Heritage varieties will grow in the formal pre-1914 garden, while wildflowers including poppies will dominate the post-1918 area.


The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) is supporting The Real Poppy Campaign in their quest to encourage people to plant poppies for the centenary. As part of the initiative, the HTA is giving away 60,000 packs of poppy seeds with one pack being given away with every purchase of a limited edition poppy National Garden Gift Voucher.

Visit the HTA website to find out more


From its association with poppies flowering in the spring of 1915 on the battlefields of Belgium and France, the field poppy has now become synonymous with the loss of life in wars.

The spring of 1915 was the first time that warm weather had warmed the countryside after the cold winter of 1914-1915. One of the plants that began to grow on and around the battle zones was the red field poppy.

The sight of the vibrant red flowers caught the attention of John McCrae, a Canadian soldier, who noticed they had grown in the disturbed ground of the burials around his artillery position. They inspired him to write a poem, supposedly after the death of a friend, whose first lines became some of the most famous lines written about the First World War:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

The origin of the red Flanders poppy as a modern-day symbol of Remembrance came about from the dedication of two women, who promoted the ‘Memorial Flower’ to raise funds to support those in need of help, especially servicemen and civilians suffering from physical and mental hardship as a result of war.

Inspired by John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields poem, sometimes called We Shall Not Sleep, an American woman, Moina Michael, made a personal pledge to ‘keep the faith’. She vowed to always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance.

Anna Guérin, often referred to as The French Poppy Lady, was herself inspired by Moina Michael's idea of the poppy as a memorial flower. She believed that artificial poppies could be made and sold as a way of raising money for the benefit of the French people who were suffering as a result of the war. Anna was determined to introduce the idea of the memorial poppy to France’s allies during the First World War and made visits or sent representatives to America, Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand. The Remembrance Poppy was born.