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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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