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Poppy Time

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm Contributer

Friday, May 27, 2011


Photo by Rick Gush

I love the orange poppies from my home state of California, but the red poppies of Italy are striking and exotic to me.

One of the reasons I really like living in Italy is that so much of ordinary, everyday existence is exotic to me. For example, I get a big kick out of having so many red poppies flowering around here now. I’m fairly used to poppies blooming near me in the spring, except that the poppies in California were the orange Eschscholzia californica, and here in Italy they are the red Papaver rhoeas. So basically, I get excited just because one of the common wildflowers in my world is a different color. I am obviously a profound person.

I took the train yesterday to Milan and back, which ends up being two nice two-and-a-half-hour trips, during which I’m free to snooze, read the paper and gaze out the window. We travel through a nice mix of coastline, mountains, foothills and flat plain, and I get to see a wide range of agricultural activities. Yesterday, the red poppies were at the peak of their season, and they were everywhere.

Poppies like the uncultivated areas, so there are a lot of them along the train tracks. The Italians aren’t big on keeping things neat and tidy, so many of the train-station areas resemble the worst areas of Detroit. Ironically, the worse the train-yard, the more poppies there will be. So for a few days each year, the ugliest stations—blanketed with thousands of wildly blooming red poppies—are actually the prettiest.

The fields alongside the tracks are also dotted with poppies. In a dozen or so spots along the train journey, I saw huge rectangular fields covered entirely in red blooms. I’d guesstimate that the largest of the poppy-covered fields might have been 10 acres or so. That’s a lot of red! I’m not sure what the farmers have done or not done to have so many poppies growing among their crop, but it was obvious that some cultural practice was involved.

My own poppy patterns in the orto this year have changed, and the reasons are probably similar. I didn’t plant any seed, so everything this year is volunteer.

In the most intensely cultivated areas, there are almost no poppies. The most vigorous plants seem to be along the pathways and steps. I strongly suspect that both cultivation and watering are not beneficial to poppy growth. I don’t think poppies are particularly aggressive either.

This year, on the big slope on the south end of the garden—where last year I had carefully tended the main planting of poppies and enjoyed a fairly spectacular show of blooms—there are almost no poppies growing among the thick grass and other weeds. I was hoping the poppies would colonize that area, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Read more of Digging Italy »

Give us your opinion on Poppy Time.
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a', Houston, TX
Posted: 1/12/2014 7:07:54 AM
Hi Ginger,

Neat! Thanks for your compliments. I think writing about gardening and farming is a legitimate activity. My computer game writing gets a lot more public attention and that fact sort of annoys me. I'm very happy to be stubborn and keep writing about gardening and farming, because I find it actually to be a hipper and far more interesting topic. Thanks for reading!
rick, rapallo, YT
Posted: 6/2/2011 10:20:29 PM
Your blog is a recent find for me. And, though I'm not usually one to make comments, I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy your posts immensely. I have read every single post... even following you back to where you were with Hobby Farm Home vs the Urban Farm Home. I find your writing, experiences and garden very inspiring and I look forward to each and every new Friday post. Please keep them coming!
Ginger, Burke, VA
Posted: 6/2/2011 6:32:07 PM
Hi David,

Maybe I could send you some poppy seeds from this years seed harvest if you'd like to try them.

rick, rapallo, YT
Posted: 5/29/2011 5:50:37 AM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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