I’ve read all the sexy stuff that people have written about poppies–the opium, the seductive red hues, the Laudium making. Decked out with teasing, luscious fringe and lavish sage green foliage, they are bee-seducing, hypnotic, sleep-inducing (think Wizard of Oz), intoxicating. Yep. They are all that, I guess, but for me, the poppy is forever associated with my dear Mama. Yes, my mama. The number one –the only—person, besides myself, I’ve ever known who grew them. They are part of my ancestor garden, and remind me of her as I hope they will remind my children of me. Below is a picture of my mom in her Arizona garden–here she is photographed with African daisies.

In writing this, I realized I didn’t know where my mother acquired them because she has been growing them as long as I can remember. She racked her brain a minute and told me that she couldn’t really remember but thinks they came from a guest speaker at her Garden Club meeting many years ago. She said she got a little packet of them at the meeting and has planted them ever since.

Every year she collects the seeds and one year, she passed some to me. Now I plant them every year and my kids love to help me collect the seeds once the pods are dry. They call them “little salt shakers” and they go around scattering seeds everywhere. We also keep them in a jar, distributing them to friends who can’t believe they are easy to grow.

I always plant them in the empty strip along the front garden. One year I got a phone call from an elderly neighbor. She left me a message saying her gardener told her I was growing opium and I needed to pull them out before they sprouted all over the neighborhood or she would “call the police.”

I told my mother and this sent her into a furious frenzy of research. How dare, that nice neighbor, say that!  She called the experts at the University of Arizona Extension Service on gardening.  She looked in every gardening book and I helped her research on the Internet, intent on proving her favorite flower was not illicit. Of course, even though I felt better when I found that they were for sale, legally http://anniesannuals.com, I was nervous from the threat that my neighbor, who was normally sweet and wonderful, had left on my voice mail. I pulled all the poppies out in my front yard, street-side—my husband laughing at me during the whole process—but I kept the ones in the front courtyard behind my patio wall. The final conclusion was that they weren’t illegal, but perhaps, we should not plant such showy, potentially controversial flowers in front of our house.

My mother still plants them (although I noticed this year that they were growing only in what she calls her “dog yard” even though the dog never goes there, and I quit letting the kids scatter them outside our wall, but they still grow, remnants of my previous enthusiasm. I now mix in toadflax and California poppies so they don’t stand out as much. It still isn’t clear in my mind if my neighbor was upset that I was growing them, or more upset that the seeds might blow across the street and sprout in her yard—scandalous! I have thoughts of scattering the seeds all over our neighborhood canyon, but the source may be so obvious that I don’t have the nerve.

So the poppies grow and mutate each year. There are ruffled ones, purple ones, red ones, red ones with crosses inside. The bees love them and they are filled with humming and buzzing. The thick green stalks grow in cracks and driest soil. They thrive with little water and little care, lending their magic to our yard, making smiles, brining memories, maybe making little gardeners who enchanted by the poppy magic will one day grow them — behind garden walls, of course!