Papery beauties. The poppy family (Papaver) includes 50 species of annuals and perennials with crinkled, cuplike blooms reminiscent of crepe paper. They come in numerous shades, both solid and bicolor, and in single or double form.
Grow poppies in full sun in rich, very well drained soil; standing water around the roots, especially in winter, can be fatal. Sow seed directly, since the poppy's long taproot makes it difficult to transplant.
Keep friends close. For all the beauty of their blossoms, poppies have coarse, hairy foliage that some find unappealing; they also go dormant after bloom. Plant poppies behind other ornamentals that will shield their leaves and fill in the gaps once they fade.
The showiest poppy is the Oriental (P. orientale), whose flowers can grow to 25 cm (10 in.), with black blotches at the base of red, orange, pink, or violet petals.
A tiny beauty. The alpine poppy has flowers up to 5 cm (2 in.) across in shades of yellow, white, orange or red on a miniature plant. It is easy to grow from seed and, while not long lived, will self-sow without becoming invasive.
The corn poppy, or Flanders poppy (P. rhoeas), is the dainty but hardy annual that turns the fields of Europe into seas of scarlet in spring. Now naturalized in this country, corn poppies self-sow readily, so plant them where they can spread.
For pastel shades, grow Shirley poppies, a strain developed from corn poppies. Go with the single-flowered form for delicate blooms; use the double types for full, ruffled flowers that resemble peonies.
Demanding but rewarding. The Iceland poppy (P. nudicale), a biennial grown as an annual, is the hardest to grow. but its silky petals are the most intensely colored and seem to glow with an inner light. This heavy bloomer — with up to 50 flowers per plant — is ideal for cutting. Sow in late summer for blooms the following year.