Setting out with a packed lunch in search of a wild flower seems like romance (for some). But when the flower in question is a commonplace, back yard self-seeder it can take enterprise to feel the romance. Even more so when its more hotly famous relative was gathered 888, 246 strong at the Tower of London, on spectacular display to commemorate the fatalities of WWI. From the Napoleonic wars to In Flanders Fields the red poppy has been used to commemorate the fallen. Today the remembrance poppy is on every lapel and the snouts of black cabs everywhere; each one of Tower of London ceramic poppies have been sold and replanted in homes around the world. The Welsh poppy on the other hand keeps a lower profile. Looking for an excuse to break with tightly packaged weekend plans and beat the crowds at Tower Hill, I set off one Saturday in search the most vigorous Welsh poppy in east London, or more specifically after its seed.
Unlike the blushing red, or indeed the blowsy opium poppy, the delicate buttercup petals from Meconopsis cambrica are modest, discrete and classy. If it weren’t for the Welsh political party Plaid Cymru taking this demurring flower as their logo, you could say that M. cambrica has no agenda whatsoever. It flutters independently on the fringes; in crevices of pavements or on the edge of your garden wall. Spotted just when you need a lift, set against a few rogue ferns or as Wikipedia describes in ‘damp, shady places on rocky ground, it is increasingly found on more open ground with less cover.’ Could it be that this resilient little flower is stepping out?
My hunt for the yellow poppy seed was a cheat and hardly a journey, in fact it’s found in a place I cycle by every day, and my packed lunch was yesterdays scraps brought from sheer greed. I left for the Clapton Park Estate, where among raised vegetable beds, wild flowers, corn poppies and other bright oriental varieties grows a stray group of Welsh poppies, special for their commonness – a black sheep in the penny bag. I had been eyeing them all summer. Welsh poppies, Montbretia ‘His Majesty’ and bracken remind me of my childhood garden in Dublin. The plan was to harvest and save some seeds from the strongest looking head to plant in my new back garden, for a yellow splash against the green come spring. Poppy seeds were once a folk remedy to help aid sleep, they were also said to bring wealth and the magical powers of invisibility. With an old mason jar I found one brownish grey seed head bordering the footpath, leaning against a garden gate. Little window openings in the rattle head let out tiny kidney shaped seeds. I tapped and trapped, ready to decant into small brown paper bags later. Now, in the cold, bleakness of January, knowing the potential for yellow is scattered around my back garden brings me great comfort. The magic is in knowing that they’re there, waiting for their moment, despite their current invisibility.