Always one of the features at Gardening Scotland, Meconopsis is one of those groups of plants with star quality. Though best known to gardeners as the big blue Himalayan poppies, there are other types. They come from upland areas in China, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan so do well in many parts of Scotland, though they are not so happy in the drier eastern parts of the country. Usually thought of as woodland plants in this country, in the wild they are often found in alpine meadows or even scree slopes but always with adequate moisture in the growing season.
The big blue flowers of Meconopis baileyi/betonicifolia and hybrids are what attract most gardeners. Note: there has been considerable confusion over the names of these – for guidance look at the excellent website of the Meconopsis Group. All meconopsis like cool, humus rich soils with semi shade needed in the south of the UK. Some are infertile and must propagated by division. Even though some do set seed, such as the very popular cultivar ‘Lingholm’, division is considered the best method of propagation to get a good form. Meconopsis can be short lived if conditions are not to their liking. Many enthusiasts consider ‘Slieve Donard’ their favourite classic big blue poppy. Other blues include the early and very large ‘Mophead’ and the slightly purple ‘Barney’s Blue’. Other colour forms in this group include ‘Hensol Violet’ whilst ‘Marit’ is the best white.
The very tall M. napaulensis has attractive rosettes which will eventually throw up a giant red or yellow flower spike then dies after setting seed. The smaller red, M. punicea, is also monocarpic but the duller red, M. x cookei ‘Old Rose’ is perennial. M. quintuplinervia is a very attractive small species with lilac blue flowers, sometimes called the harebell poppy.
To obtain any of these plants go to a specialist nursery.
One meconopsis that is very easy to grow and can become a weed, is M. cambrica, the yellow Welsh poppy. It is native to parts of the UK though is very widespread in gardens where an orange form also occurs. Some botanists now classify it in a different genus, Papaver. Only plant it where you don’t mind if it self-seeds.