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Q. Every spring I become entranced with the different types of poppies, especially those in containers. Which are best for Chicago?

A. Early spring is a fine time to appreciate poppy species, since quite a few are considered cool-season annuals and their seeds can be directly sown into the ground or the tiny transplants can be carefully moved to a container or garden bed (poppies’ taproots resent frequent disturbance). 

  • The Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule), grown as an annual, has a fragrant flower, 1 to 3 inches across, in salmon, pink, orange, white or red. Its petals resemble crepe paper, and the plant grows to 2 feet. Recommended cultivars are ‘Champagne Bubbles’, ‘Sparkling Bubbles’ and the more compact ‘Wonderland’ series.
  • The Shirley poppy (Papaver rhoeas), found naturalized throughout Europe, is considered an annual that can self-sow. Fat, furry buds open to single, double or semidouble nodding flowers in red, white, pink or yellow. These poppies, like the others, prefer full sun, good drainage and an even supply of moisture. They will grow to 2 feet and bloom in spring to early summer.
  • The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is the famous orange California native that grows 12 to 15 inches. The beautiful ‘Thai Silk’ series includes salmons, pinks, reds and golds. Sow seeds directly into containers or transplant with care.
  • The Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) is the true perennial of the group, when grown in Chicago. It has classic poppy characteristics — dissected basal foliage; large, hairy buds on single stems; wavy, textured petals, often with black splotches at the center; a dislike for winter wetness and a desire to stay in one place. Oriental poppies bloom during early summer.