Meconopsis ‘Slieve Donard’

The last time rhododendrons were in fashion perhaps thirty years or so ago, I was taken to see a woodland garden with many fine specimens but what actually bowled me over was the sight of a swathe of glorious blue Himalayan poppies weaving between them. I fell in love with Meconopsis ‘Slieve Donard’ on the spot.

Although this hybrid was originally raised in Scotland, it carries the name of the famous Slieve Donard Nursery in Newcastle, Co Down and was closely associated with it. Like all Himalayan poppies, it enjoys cool, damp conditions and grows best in acidic soil in semi-shade. As a result it tends to thrive the further north one goes. Growing to about one metre tall, the hairy buds open in May to reveal sumptuous, slightly crumpled petals ranging from a deep sky blue to almost indigo at the base. It is infertile and has to be propagated by division; this, however, has the great advantage of ensuring one gets the true plant. It has the reputation of being a short-lived perennial but this may be because it likes to be divided on a regular basis. Philip Wood, a lovely man who was Manager and a Director of the Nursery, advised that it should be divided in early spring when the emerging leaves were no bigger than a mouse’s ear. That works for me.

( As appeared in Newsletter 152, April 2021. Text courtesy of Maeve Bell and photo by Paddy Tobin)