There is something almost magical about blue flowers, and one of the most beautiful, elusive and magical is the lovely Himalayan Blue Poppy – Meconopsis baileyi. Many years ago I was thrilled by a great swath of Meconopsis blooming in the dappled shade along one of the trails in Van Dusen Gardens. So distracted by their ethereal beauty, I cannot for the life of me remember what kind of trees were shading them – they were tall. I don’t think I looked up even once to identify them!
Formerly known as Meconopsis betonicifolia but now recognized as Meconopsis baileyi, Himalayan Blue Poppy was named, renamed, and then had the original restored as explained by author Bill Terry on his website; My Blue Heaven:
‘It’s named for Frederick M. Bailey, a British Army officer and dauntless explorer, who found this most famous of the Blue Poppies in 1913, in the course of a hair-raising exploration of the Tsangpo river gorge in Tibet. Bailey pressed a single bloom in his wallet and, weeks later, sent it to David Prain, Director of Kew Gardens. On the evidence of this tattered specimen, Prain reckoned it was a new species of Asiatic poppy, and named it for the finder– m.baileyi.
Twenty years later, the botanist and meconopsis expert, George Taylor, decided that Prain was wrong. The poppy was merely a regional variation of meconopsis betonicifolia, found by the Jesuit missionary and plant collector Père Delavaye in northern Yunnan, c. 1885, and not different enough to warrant naming as a distinct species. So, m. betonicifolia it became and remained so until 2009, when Christopher Grey-Wilson made a thorough study of the Yunnan and Tibetan Blue Poppies, determined they differed on several basic structural features – and booted Bailey’s poppy back to its original name, meconopsis baileyi.’
Reputed to be difficult to grow, Meconopsis is prized by plant geeks and new gardeners alike. It’s not really difficult to grow but has specific demands which, if not met, well just don’t bother…
In our temperate coastal climate, Meconopsis grows quite readily in light shade and moist but well-drained soil. It tends to bloom itself to death if you allow it to flower the first year after planting, or if it’s struggling. Nipping the flower buds off until you have a robust plant is advisable.
As soon as I built my shade garden in the back yard I bought and planted a couple of young meconopsis baileyi in the shelter of my enkianthus campanulatus. One of them promptly died (okay, maybe they’re not so easy) but the other took and grew well. It even produced a flower bud, which I quickly cut away, even though I was desperate to see it blossom.
The following spring I had a sturdy plant, with a sizable rosette of the fairly coarse, hairy leaves that Meconopsis baileyi produce, and I eagerly anticipated some gorgeous blue flowers but, sigh, it was not to be…
I guess it was my fault. In an effort to teach my children the value of labour, I frequently require them to do chores around the house and yard. One fine day I decided that my teenage daughter should do a little weeding, so I assigned her a stretch of the shade garden with instructions to clean up the weeds. Unfortunately I didn’t listen to that little voice inside my head whispering “Maybe you should show her the meconopsis, those leaves are a little weedy looking!” Yup, she pulled it! I think I frightened her with my shrieking when I discovered what had happened. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I did shed a tear or two. I just couldn’t believe that after all that waiting I was back to square one!
Of course I couldn’t find a replacement plant, it was too late in the season, so I had to wait until the following spring and repeat the entire process. This time I bought 3 plants and killed 2. So here we are, in June of 2012, and…
Angels sing and trumpets blow, I FINALLY HAVE MECONOPSIS BAILEYI IN BLOOM!!!!