Gardening: Fallen offerings

CAPTION: SEEING RED: Poppies are still blooming.
CAPTION: SEEING RED: Poppies are still blooming.
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The Tour de France’s visit to Yorkshire in 2014 left a lasting impression. Yellow was the colour and cycling was the name of the game. Two years later, some parts of the county are still remembering what was an epic occasion – only in a very different way.

Before the Tour riders hit the towns and villages, councils spent millions resurfacing worn and weary roads and lanes earmarked as part of the race’s route. Smooth tarmac replaced ruts and potholes, and verges and ditches were excavated to improve drainage. There was to be no standing water for the world’s top cyclists to face.

But now those very same verges and ditches are decked in red after the disturbed earth awoke millions of tiny seeds of one of nature’s brightest and bountiful of flowers – the poppy.

And as 2016 marks the centenary of one of the First World War’s most horrific battles, it seems fitting that poppies should be blooming at Remembrance weekend, to remind the nation of the millions who lost their lives when the course of history was changed forever.

The poppy is also a vivid reminder of a countryside before chemicals became the accepted way of dealing with weeds. Two forms of warfare – one vivid red little flower.

Thankfully, the world is unlikely to ever again see carnage on the scale of the conflict at the Somme, and some sections of the agricultural industry have seen sense and begun to let nature rather than herbicides have more of a say in what grows where.

Which is good news for many flowers (and birds and insects) and certainly good news for the humble poppy, which is easy to grow, easy to please and easy to propagate.

In the wild, they are a joy to behold; in the garden, they can make a short-lived but lasting impact; they seem to pulse with colour and are able to put on a superb show year in year out.

And their seeds can remain in the earth for decades, only springing to life when the soil is disturbed. As was the case when the Tour came to call.

Annual poppies are simple to grow; scatter their tiny black seeds where you want them to flower. They don’t need rich soil, although they do love the sun. And they help us remember...