Cambrian: Opinion

‘Gold’ discovered in hills and gardens of North Coast

Poppies and calendula brighten up the Oliphant/Sather garden in March and April.
Poppies and calendula brighten up the Oliphant/Sather garden in March and April. Special to The Cambrian

Whether you’ve stayed close to town or have been traveling California’s roads and highways, you’ve been treated to a “wildflower extravaganza” this spring. Hillsides are glowing with the “gold” of California poppies, and the Main Street dividers are ablaze, thanks to a handful of “spunky” Cambria Garden Club members who till the soil at dawn.

Homes and commercial gardens in and around town are also trimmed in gold. The familiar poppies got just the right combination of moisture and a mild winter, kick-starting them for our entertainment (and, of course, to perpetuate their species).

Background

The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) was discovered and catalogued during Russian exploration in the early 1800s. The name Eschscholzia californica was given to the plant in honor of J.F. Eschscholtz, surgeon and entomologist aboard a Russian ship traveling the Pacific, Alaska and California. Notice that the “t” was left out in the naming. Oh well, the thought was there. Eschscholtz did not actually discover the poppy but was considered one of most important scientists in Pacific exploration; and hey, the poppy needed a name.

In 1890, the California State Floral Society selected the California poppy as the California state flower. The California Legislature made it official in 1903, by declaring Eschscholzia californica the state flower of the Golden State. April 6 was designated California Poppy Day. I’ll remember to wear a poppy on that date next year.

The California poppy is often treated as an annual because we pull it out after it blooms. An “annual” plant completes its life cycle in a year or less. Annuals grow, bloom, produce seeds, then begin to wilt. Seeds are scattered (one way or another), and the cycle begins again the following year.

When we say a plant is a perennial, it means that the plant’s life cycle continues for more than several years (remember, that does not mean FOREVER).

Poppy plants can be treated like perennials by cutting them to a few inches in height when the plant begins dying back. Because of its fleshy taproot, it will either bloom again (in cooler climes) or wait it out until the fall rains begin.

California poppies are about as easy to grow as anything you can find. Sow seeds about one-sixteenth-inch deep. I sow poppies by sprinkling them on the soil then sprinkling finely sifted soil over the top of them. This is best accomplished in fall or early winter when you are assured of some moisture.

If you are successful in growing poppies, that is to say, there is sufficient rain in the winter and the deer (who’d rather eat something else if they can find it) don’t get them, they’ll reseed and you’ll never have to plant them again.

Lee Oliphant shares her garden and chickens on her websites at centralcoastgardening.com and backyardhencam.com. Email her with gardening questions at cambria gardener@charter.net.

Tip of the month

The annual Wildflower Show will take place Saturday, April 23, from noon until 5 p.m. and Sunday, April 24, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Cambria Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St. You’ll get “up close and personal” with 400 fresh wildflowers collected from the Monterey County line to the Morro Bay Estuary and from the coastal bluffs to the ridge of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

The Wildflower Show is free to students of all ages. Others are expected to donate $3 at the door to help cover costs. A reference list will be provided.

For more information check out Friends of Fiscalini Ranch Preserve website at www.ffrpcambria.org. Call 927-2856 or email ffrpcambria@sbcglobal.net.

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