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Poppies are a favorite for the cottage gardener

Happy 'Year of the Poppy.' Yeah, it's probably just one of those made-up greeting card holidays, this one courtesy of the National Garden Bureau. But it is just as noteworthy as the real thing, I can assure you.

The woodland or alpine poppy (Papaver burseri) is the most understated of the poppy group. The rest are over-the-top, flamboyant and ready to party. Flanders Field, Iceland, Oriental (P. rhoeas, P. nudicaule, P. orientale), California (Eschscholzia) or blue poppy (Meconopsis) Ñ it's my opinion that all cottage gardens should have poppies.

Margaret Willoughby is especially keen on growing Iceland poppies in her Southeast Portland garden. They remind her of the English gardens of her youth in Tasmania, Australia.

'It's just sort of a sentimental thing, I suppose,' Willoughby says wistfully. 'The colors are delicate, pale lemon and pink, white or cream, salmon and orange. I really love them.'

The flower's texture is like silk or crepe paper.

Iceland poppies love our Northwest weather: Our cooler climate suits their needs perfectly. From what I've heard, Iceland poppies don't like warmer climates, where they'll produce buds but no flowers. And what's the fun of that?

Iceland poppies, which are easiest to grow from seed, grow with wild abandon in Willoughby's garden. It was the first thing I saw stepping into her garden several years ago, and I've never forgotten how beautiful they were.

I spoke to Willoughby the other day, and she says she's looking forward to seeing them again any time now.

The National Garden Bureau recommends that you use poppies in a border garden with lamb's ears, cornflowers, larkspur, Shasta daisy and veronica. For a more 'meadowy' look, the group suggests sowing poppies among lupine, coreopsis, Indian blanket, black-eyed Susan and cornflower.

Willoughby allows poppies to be, well, poppies. She takes the formality out of planting, throwing caution to the wind and just scattering them anywhere in the garden Ñ not just borders or meadows. The seeds winter over and come up with exuberance in spring or early summer.

'You never know where they're going to come up,' Willoughby says. 'So you have to be patient.'

And isn't that part of the fun? Sort of like a surprise party with poppies every year.

Happy 2003, the Year of the Poppy.

This week's to-do list:

• Poppies make great cut flowers; just sear cut ends under a flame before placing the flowers in water. They will die quickly if you don't seal the milky sap inside.

• Cut poppies when the buds stand straight up, just when you begin to see a little color from the petals, but before the bud is fully open.

• Watch for leaf-rolling worms and codling moths in apple trees. You can buy pheromone traps at a local garden center to catch them.

Garden gossip:

• An unusual steel-pipe arbor in the garden of Janice and Tony Marquis of Lake Oswego is the focal point of the May issue of a Better Homes and Gardens article on 'New Shapes for Arbors.'

• The Mother's Day Rhododendron Show and Sale happens Saturday, May 10, and Sunday, May 11, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. Admission is $3. The garden is off Southeast 28th Avenue one block north of Woodstock Boulevard (across from Reed College).Ê

'Anne Jaeger's Gardening Tips' airs at 9:56 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday on KGW (8). Jaeger's Web site is www.gardengal.tv.

• The Mother's Day Rhododendron Show and Sale happens Saturday, May 10, and Sunday, May 11, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. Admission is $3. The garden is off Southeast 28th Avenue one block north of Woodstock Boulevard (across from Reed College).Ê