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21st May 2017

Meconopsis cambrica
It has been a week of garden visits, and the weather has done its best to co-operate. Cold mornings rapidly warmed. A fortnight ago I was wading around in a pond clearing out overgrown waterlilies, but I wouldn't have tried it this week. There has been a cold wind biting around my limbs in the garden. I can manage exposed knees or exposed elbows, but I can't cope with both.
The garden has taken advantage of the moisture, the grass is growing and it's time to get a new battery for the mower so that I can cut it reliably. After many months of coaxing and pleading the battery has finally reached the end of its charge. Last time I went to start it, the mower smiled at me but didn't even whisper.
Walking through the Epimedium I was surprised by a large yellow blob in the distance. It was the forgotten Meconopsis cambrica, seeding itself among the plants. I have tried several times to establish plants in different places without success. I think the orange one is prettier than the yellow, but it didn't establish. The reddish 'Frances Perry' didn't even germinate. The double flowered forms have a whimsical charm and I have a suitable whim but I can't get them to go. The yellow form arrived without my help and has been the only success.
I don't think I am alone in struggling to grow Meconopsis, though I am part of a much smaller and far less select group who struggle to grow M. cambrica. Delightful as it is, I am determined that this will be its last appearance in the garden.
Described as a poppy by Linnaeus in 1753, the stigmas are held at the end of a distinct style and in 1814 Louis Viguier created the new genus Meconopsis to accomodate it. When the large blue poppies of the Himalayas were discovered, with their long styles, they found a morphological home with their strange Welsh bedfellow. Two centuries later a molecular phylogenetic study (2011) demonstrated quite conclusively that M. cambrica is just a strange poppy, and nothing to do with its large blue eastern namesakes.
So this is the last you will see of Meconopsis cambrica. In future as its sunny yellow flowers rise above the setting Epimedium it will be Papaver cambricum as Linnaeus suggested.

21st May 2017

Meconopsis Fertile Blue Group
All of which taxonomic juggling leaves the blue Meconopsis in a slightly precarious position. The name Meconopsis was created for Papaver cambricum, and it has now been demonstrated to be invalid. The large blue poppies that were subsequently shoe-horned into the genus have very little to do with it and (at least technically) a new name will have to be found. (The name "Meconopsis" gains its validity from a description of the characteristics of the Welsh poppy, now that this is clearly a Papaver species, the name "Meconopsis" is without valid authority.)
Fortunately for us all, there is a mechanism for conserving the invalid name (on the grounds of convenience) and writing a new description of what a "Meconopsis" really is, and excluding (probably rather petulantly) that awful, naughty Welsh Poppy that caused all the trouble. You can see why I like it (but I really would prefer the double orange one).
This is not to suggest that the new genus concept for Meconopsis is without taxonomic problems but they are of the usual "what the hell is that and what are we going to call it" variety. The large blue poppies are variably perennial, they hybridise to some extent, and where possible they are raised from seed because division is a slow and unreliable process.
The name "Fertile Blue Group" was coined to describe those fairly perennial forms that set viable seed. It is an ugly name, but it serves to identify that group of plants that may be horticulturally useful (assuming you can grow any of them in the first place).
I have great trouble with cultivation. The plants are weak and the slugs adore them. Seedlings are no more than a light snack and mature plants just a midnight salad. This plant came to me quite recently as Fertile White Group, but the name is in error in at least one respect.

21st May

Meconopsis 'Lingholm'
I need to clear my conscience and admit that none of these blue poppies has been with me for very long. I have been searching for a way to grow them for the last three years. I have tried several systems and killed many plants. Only a tiny proportion have survived my mismanagement, but that is an improvement on past attempts where I would buy them in bud and think myself lucky if they survived to flower. Things are moving on. You can teach an old dog new tricks, it's just hard and it takes a lot of effort (and I make no claim to have mastered it yet).
'Lingholm' is the archetype of the Fertile Blue Group. It is a seedling strain, selected by Roger Nelson in his garden in Cumbria in the 1960's from a particularly good individual. As a seed raised cultivar there is some variability and the seedlings should be selected. Ideally they have distinctly hairy young leaves (hairs on both surfaces) and mature leaves that are shallowly boat shaped rather than flat. The large flowers are deep sky-blue with prominent veins. The petals overlap and have a purple-blue stain at the base on the outside.
In addition they have been selected in gardens for their compact, perennial, clumping nature. Less good examples are just Fertile Blue Group.
The original plant still exists, from which the seed strain derives. A small number of other cultivars have been named, fertile but needing to be propagated by division to stay true to name.

21st May 2017

Meconopsis x sheldonii
When M. baileyi (short lived) and M. grandis (perennial) are grown together, they almost invariably hybridise. So much so that plants available in cultivation as M. grandis are generally hybrids. The first generation hybrid is sterile and the name M. x sheldonii has been applied, however chromosome doubling has occurred (probably on several occasions) and a fertile hybrid swarm has developed which may include genes from M. simplicifolia. To avoid conceptual chaos they have all been bundled together and locked in a single phrase. The term "Pandora's Box" was available, but for some reason the title Fertile Blue Group was chosen as an asylum for the insanity.
In theory therefore, my plant of M. x sheldonii is a sterile first generation hybrid between M. baileyi and M. grandis. Does that seem likely to you, given that I bought it rather cheaply from a nursery early this spring? Not to me either, though it is a deeper turquoise blue than my other plants. I will keep the name until the strain becomes too much and I resort to calling them No.1, No.2 etc, in the admittedly unlikely event that any of them survive long enough for it to matter.
You may not know it, but I try not to show things on this page until I have grown them for a year. Plants that come in and drop dead six weeks later feature in the index, often (but not always) with an admission that I have killed them, just as a record that they were tried. Here on the front page I try to show the things that could be called a success. Things that I can take at least some credit for flowering.
So why have I devoted a page to Meconopsis when the best I can claim is that with the passage of years I am killing the plants less rapidly than I once did? My advances in cultivation still don't extent to confidence that any of the plants above will flower again next year. The answer is simple.
This week I have devoted a page to various Meconopsis because I can.