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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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For week of Dec. 10:

Take advantage of these dry but crisp conditions. It’s time to get out the rake!

* Rake leaves away from storm drains and keep gutters clear.

* Fallen leaves can be used for mulch and compost. Chop up large leaves with a couple of passes with a lawn mower.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant. Without their foliage, trees are easier to prune.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Make sure to take frost precautions with new transplants and sensitive plants. Mulch, water and cover tender plants in the late afternoon to retain warmth.

* Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Don’t water succulents before frost; cover instead. Use cloth sheets, not plastic. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eaves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Plant garlic (December's the last chance -- the ground is getting cold!) and onions for harvest in summer.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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