Only on display at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania for two to three weeks, the Himalayan Blue Poppies are stunners and considered a rare garden treasure. Almost extinct in their native habitat of Bhutan, photographers flock to Longwood to capture some photos of these amazingly true blue spectacles. Sporting deep sky blue crepey petals with mauve highlights and a ring of golden stamens and anthers, the plant is much sought after to add to gardens.
Unfortunately, in North America it can only be grown in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and parts of New England successfully. Meconopsis grandis is the national flower of Bhutan, a country high up in the Himalayas, above 10,000 feet, and wants cool, cool temperatures, like 45 to 50 degrees F. The conservatory at Longwood Gardens is certainly warmer than this so the flower is fleeting in its beauty.
Once considered a myth and brought back to the west by plant hunters, the Blue Poppy is a challenge to grow for the most experienced gardeners and a mark of distinction for any gardener succeeding in its cultivation.
Requiring moist and cool conditions, Longwood Gardens, one of the few places to see them, forces the variety Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’ into bloom every March and increases their number each year because of their popularity.
Drawing large numbers of people, especially photographers getting that perfect shot, the colors are unbelievable-saturated blues with streaks of mauve plum tones- on a large 4-5 inch flower.
A shade of blue rarely seen in other flowers, the foliage is also stunning with grass-green hairy stems and leaves. Longwood Gardens gets their Blue Poppy plants shipped to them from an Alaska grower in the fall and they grow them in perfectly controlled greenhouse conditions to force them into bloom for display in the spring. Longwood has two different batches that it refreshes the flowers with so they can extend the brief bloom time for visitors.
Growing in the warm clime of the conservatory, the mauve highlights were evidence as a sign of stress. The ephemeral quality of their blooms is part of their attraction and charm and visitors flock to see them.
Demanding a rich loamy well draining soil in partial sun in cool conditions is the primary ingredient to successfully growing this garden gem. Way too hot in my mid-Atlantic climate, I get to photograph them and enjoy them at Longwood Gardens in the spring. For more information on how to grow them if you are in a better suited climate than mine, go to Himalayan Blue Poppy Care.
As a landscape designer, when I ask a client what colors they want in their garden, they invariably will say that blue is top of the list. So, I am always looking for good blue perennials and annuals to satisfy this urge. Blue is also the most popular color in the world so I understand where this is coming from. Who doesn’t love blue? Lots of blue flowers populate garden catalogs, but some are not suited for my extreme hot/cold climate of the mid-Atlantic, though I can still covet these varieties. If you live in a more forgiving climate, like the Pacific Northwest, you are fortunate and can load up on many of these plants.
There are a few named varieties of this beauty, notably ‘Blue Panda’, ‘China Blue’ and ‘Blue Heron’. A shade loving perennial that looks like and is a relative of bleeding heart, the finely cut blue grey foliage topped with clusters of azure blue flowers, flowering in mid to late spring, Corydalis dies back in the summer and can flush back with more flowers in the autumn, but hates heat, so I can’t grow this beauty. Needing evenly moist soil, this great pick comes from China and is available from Plant Delights.
Blue Centaurea or Perennial Bachelors Button
I can grow this one and love it. The cornflower-blue, fringed blossoms of this easy to grow perennial attract butterflies like magnets in the garden. Centaurea blooms from early to midsummer and dies back in the late summer. Beautiful in cut flower bouquets, it will self seed prolifically.
Anchusa is another old-fashioned flower that I only see in the UK. I used to grow it years ago and can’t find it anymore at local nurseries, but after seeing it flower in England, I am going to try it again next year. A short-lived perennial that blooms in spring and hates humidity, I can still grow this little gem for spring color. I put this on my list for next year.
Balloon Flower, Platycodon ‘Sentimental Blue’, is a sun-loving deer resistant trooper in my garden. Covered in puffy balloon shaped flowers that explode in color, lasting a long time in bloom. ‘Sentimental Blue’ is a dwarf variety topping out at 12″ tall and the easy to grow clump is literally covered with blooms in mid summer.
Heralding springtime bloom, I add to my Virginia Bluebell, Mertensia virginica, population every year. Blooming in April with trusses of true blue flowers, these will disappear in later summer where other summer bloomers take over. A spring ephemeral that forms large colonies over time, the flowers start off pink and gradually turn a beautiful shade of blue as they mature. I often see bumblebees visit the flowers which last for at least a month, and then disappear. Preferring woodland conditions- rich moist soil I have no problem growing them in my clay soil here in the mid-Atlantic.
Love in a Mist
Love in a Mist, or Nigella hispanica, is an annual which I sow in early March when the weather is still chilly. I scrape off some soil and sprinkle some seeds and by June, I am rewarded with a cloud of blossoms which bloom and turn into interesting seed pods.
Blue Salvia ‘Victoria Blue’
Salvia farinacea, another annual that I grow for its true blue color is planted every year in my garden. Easy to grow in full sun, I cut the flower wands for drying and use them in dried flower wreaths and arrangements. Drying true to color, they add a huge color focal point to any arrangement.
Scabiosa or Pin Cushion flower grows in full sun to part shade with huge (3-4″) flowers. The stunning flowers are fewer in number than the more commonly seen ‘Butterfly Blue’, but spectacular.
Offering up double blossoms begging to be cut and placed in an arrangement, it blooms off and on all summer Nodding flowers held on top of long stems, the flowers can last up to a week in a vase and longer on the plant. Also in a white form, you need to dead head to keep the flower show coming.
Bulbs & Tubers
Spring color is easy to add with fall planted bulbs, by planning a little bit ahead. Grape Hyacinths, Camassia, Scilla, Iris, and Agapanthus, are my top picks for blue splashes.
Anything that you add to your garden – benches, obelisks, bridges, glass balls, etc., is a blank canvas for you to amp up color impact. Forget natural teak benches! and include something with color instead.
I would love a real peacock to ornament my garden!
Grape Hyacinth Valerie Finnis
blue really stands out in a garden: seen here at Quatre Vents in Quebec
A Chanticleer, blue painted chairs add a pop of color
Scabiosa ‘Blue Note’
A dried arrangement with blue salvia
A cut bunch of Salvia ready for drying
Coming in an array of blue shades, Love in a mist will bloom in the spring and form beautiful seed pods