Since I moved to Idaho, my sister and mom and their friends and my friends have been generously donating plants to fill my new garden beds. (Gardeners are the nicest people.) This week, I’m transplanting poppies from my sister.


A gardener’s wealth measured in gifts of potted transplants.

I’m planting them in areas that I smothered with leaves about 5 months ago. Most of the lawn grass has died under thickly covered areas (say, 8 to 12 inches of leaves), but some spikes or clumps of grasses are emerging here and there. As I dig into the soil underneath, I am finding many, many worms of different sizes, and the soil is rich, dark, and crumbly.

I had no luck with poppies in my previous garden’s heavy clay; this soil obviously agrees with them, as they are perking up surprisingly quickly after transplanting.

I’m greedily anticipating vivid splashes of color that will appear around my property in mid-May. That’s when my sister’s front yard is bathed in a blanket of bright orange-red blooms; the poppies form a hardy, easy-care understory for her mature trees. (She used to have a lot of poppies in the back yard as well, but her chickens ate them up like candy.)


My sister’s front yard poppies abloom.


See their friendly faces.

I like that these plants are both hardy and friendly, with their large open faces, their fuzzy texture, and their bright petals like the ruffled skirts of Spanish dancers. They also offer a dash of mystique with their connection to opium dens and the subtly menacing field of poppies in the Wizard of Oz (though mine are a different species). Another unusual and interesting feature is how quickly the buds open, some within a day, like a time-lapse video happening in your own yard. The process is graceful too: the stems uncurl, they drop their outer cases, then the petals unfold like butterflies.


Poppy buds add high drama to the garden.

Not only do they carry a connection to my sister, they also remind me of my garden pals in Charlotte, North Carolina. I met this dear group of gardeners when I walked up to a table at one of their gardens on my first Garden Open Day. I had decided to visit the southeast and photograph some gardens there for my book Beautiful No-Mow Yards. What better way to find private gardens than to visit them during the days they are open to the public through this splendid nationwide program of the Garden Conservancy?

When I registered at the first garden, I mentioned that I had traveled all the way from Minnesota, and these gracious gardeners lined up several more gardens for me to tour. A couple of them are featured in the book, and another, a front yard cottage/stroll garden brimming with poppies, is spotlighted in my forthcoming book Hellstrip Gardening.


Early morning poppy scene in a friend’s Charlotte garden.

Funny how a certain plant species can become a thread running through a person’s life, stitching together different relationships and memories.