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Sow larkspur and corn poppies for spring beauty

Poppies and larkspur make a great color combination, and you can grow them from seeds
Poppies and larkspur make a great color combination, and you can grow them from seeds

You don’t see them everywhere, but when you do, it is a moment to step on the brakes and step out to wonder at the beauty of larkspur in spring.

That is when I sort of go to pieces over these old-fashioned but elegant annuals that are so easy to grow from seeds. The color range is lovely, white to shades of blue into violet. They make admirable cut flowers for a vase, perhaps combined with other seasonal beauties.

Their bloom is six months away, but I bring up the subject now because it is time to sow the seeds of larkspur, along with their good companion, the red corn poppy.

Many gardeners are accustomed to getting their garden flowers as young plants arrayed by the hundreds or thousands in tempting colors.

But larkspur and corn poppies are not seen so often this way. That is because they are best grown from seeds sown in mid-autumn. But it’s an aspect of fall gardening often overlooked in the rush for pansies and flowering bulbs.

Larkspur and poppies benefit from fall planting largely because they are hardy souls that survive our winters as seedlings, begin to grow in the cool days of early spring and are ready to bloom in late spring.

Over the years, I have heard from gardeners disappointed with the performance of their larkspur. Almost always, they were planted in mid-spring and simply did not have time to develop before seriously hot weather hit them. Fall planting makes all the difference for them and corn poppies. Corn poppies are the famous European red poppies of Flanders field.

They are distinctly different from other poppies that are much taller with bigger blooms. Exceptions to the red color are the Shirley poppies, which erupt as pinks and orange, some with a different color on the bloom margins or center of the bloom.

You can mix seeds of larkspur and corn poppies to great effect. The larkspur are taller but slender enough so that the poppies have room to stand out. And the color combination is lovely. It is also effective to bring in some early white daisies or yellow coreopsis to complete the look. However, each can go solo, especially while you are getting used to experimenting with color combinations.

Both require little attention once planted, but what a sight they produce. They require sunshine and a well-dug bed so that seeds can lodge among the soil particles and take root more easily. Scattering the seeds on hard, unprepared ground is not the path to success.

But once you’ve got them, you’ve pretty much got them. Larkspur bear seed pods that develop from the flowers. They tend to scatter on the same ground where the parent plant grew, then germinate and produce a new season that will bloom the following year. Corn poppies act similarly. However, for both plants, you can easily collect seeds in an envelope to save for planting elsewhere or to give away.

Ask Nancy

Q. Is it too late to do autumn lawn renewal? It has been so hot and dry, I wonder if it is worth trying.

A. Yes, you can do this with overseeding, repair of bare spots and fertilizing of fescue. Try to get this done by Nov. 1.

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