IF YOU GIVE ME IMAGES TO WRITE ABOUT, I’LL ALWAYS CHOOSE THE FLOWERS*
In our family, when I was small, we always wore red, plasticized cloth poppies on Poppy Day, the last Monday in May, Memorial Day for us in the US. I never associated those fabricated poppies with the big-petaled orange poppies I later saw growing by my friend Coco’s porch in Grants Pass, when I was in my 20’s. Such lovely flowers, big as my hand with crepey thin petals colored like blazing flames! I felt they truly meant being flowers.
I wanted to grow some poppies where I lived in Burns, but they refused to grow. Poppy season is early, so maybe I planted the seeds my friend gave me too late. Or maybe it was too cold in the winter, too hot and dry in the summer, and the soil too alkaline. I don’t know, but I was disappointed.
When Neal and I moved to our most recent home, the owner before had grown the vibrant red opium poppies, Papaver somniferum, in her vegetable garden. I don’t know where she found her seeds, because in my experience, finding those poppy seeds is difficult, and remains so. I didn’t even know they were opium poppies until some plant expert told me.
For a few years the red poppies re-seeded themselves and then they died out. I haven’t found any more seeds to replace them. I have easily grown the small, orange California poppies that come in wildflower seed packets, and used them in herbal concoctions. I have saved seeds from orange and white poppies but still long for the red, red, red.
Visiting the Parthenon in Athens was a thrill for me, not only for the ruins, but also for the red poppies that cover the ground everywhere and are considered weeds by some. I wonder if poppies are older in origin than the Parthenon? My research tells me that they probably are.
Another question that arises is this: Does the fact that the Parthenon was built according to the Golden Ratio often found in the human body, flowers, plants and beehives among other natural things, have some special significance and connection?
We know poppies were around in Ancient Greek times because Demeter’s emblem was the poppy which grew among the barley/ Theocritus wrote: “ For the Greeks Demeter was still a poppy goddess, bearing sheaves and poppies in both hands.” Idyll vii 157.
Poppies were also used for coloring in tapestries of the time.
Before that, poppies were connected with a Cretan cult, and that reached Classical Greece, brought to Eleusis. They were making opium from then even then. Robert Graves speculated that the meaning of the depiction and use of poppies in Greco-Roman myths is the symbolism of the bright scarlet color as signifying the promise of resurrection after death.
The earliest reference to opium growth and use is in 3,400 B.C. when the opium poppy was cultivated in lower Mesopotamia (Southwest Asia). The Sumerians referred to it as Hul Gil, the “joy plant.” The Sumerians soon passed it on to the Assyrians, who in turn passed it on to the Egyptians. As people learned of the power of opium, demand for it increased. Now it grows wild in Eastern and Southern Asia and Southeastern Europe, and is cultivated in other parts of the world for opium production. An interesting fact is that although the opium poppy has the highest concentration of narcotics, all poppies in the Papaver genus do contain some amount of narcotic.
Regardless of some growers’ nefarious usage of the Papaver somniferum, I love them for their beauty, however short-lived. I wonder why certain flowers speak to us more than others? Poppies weren’t a part of my childhood so that’s not it. Is there maybe a certain vibration or that Golden Ratio we share that makes us feel like kin?
Because I didn’t know where the previous owner of our property had procured her seeds, I also wondered those years the opium poppies grew themselves if the FBI would be showing up!
Now I know not to worry. I’m lucky also, because Master Gardener Sally McGee has so generously promised to bring me some poppy seeds for my summer garden!
* A photo of poppies, among several other options, was offered in a writing group I attend.