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Red poppies a symbol of remembrance

Red poppies, here blooming in a midtown garden, are the perfect flowers for a Memorial Day bouquet. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)

From Flanders fields to Sacramento, this flower has power as a living tribute

Wherever they bloom, these flowers are living memorials to fallen soldiers.

In the century since World War I, these red poppies have scattered across the globe, a symbol of remembrance and tribute. This month, they're blooming in Sacramento gardens, too. They're a perfect choice for a Memorial Day bouquet.

Few flowers have such a powerful connotation as Flanders poppies, as they're now nicknamed worldwide. Known in Europe as field poppy or common poppy, Papaver rheas filled battlefields in Belgium, France and Turkey.

In their native lands, these wildflowers tend to grow abundantly on the edges of agricultural fields. The seed can lay dormant in the soil for many years. But when plowed to the surface, they quickly sprout and bloom.

That's what happened on the battlefields near Flanders in Belgium as well as northern France and Gallipoli in Turkey. Fighting disturbed the ground and brought millions of seeds to the surface. Amid the trenches and incredible carnage, the poppies started blooming.

The sight of these vibrant red poppies surrounding the graves of fellow soldiers in April 1915 inspired Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian physician, to write "In Flanders Fields." It begins:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

McCrae died of pneumonia in France in 1918 before the war was over. By then, his words had already become the most famous poem of World War I and immortalized Flanders poppies forever.

As for growing the poppies, scatter the seed in the fall or early spring for blooms by Memorial Day. Once established, this annual will freely reseed itself year after year, keeping its symbolism alive for generations to come.


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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