The Poppies at Chelsea


Every year the Chelsea Flower Show brings us some remarkable plant displays, but this year there’s going to be something quite different and very red!  There’ll be thousands of poppies adorning the entrance to the showground, and unlike the paper ones that we wear for Remembrance Day, these poppies for Chelsea will be hand crocheted

The display will cover around 800 square metres, which is about one eighth of a football pitch and is the brainchild of Australian garden designer Philip Johnson. The idea for this amazing sight at Chelsea stems from last year’s 5000 Poppies Project for Anzac Day in Melbourne.  And that all started when two Australian fibre artists, Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight, initially set out to crochet a mere 120 poppies to create a small planting to honour both of their fathers who had fought in the World War II.

However, this modest plan quickly escalated, and friends and friends of friends wanted to join in. The final total was well in excess of quarter of a million poppies, coming from an estimated 50,000 contributors. A Facebook page was set up, and crochet or knitting patterns were supplied online. Whatever method was used, be it crochet or knitting, the main imperative was that all tensions had to be quite tight, to ensure that the poppies didn’t flatten out or flop in the rain – it seems that even Down Under they had heard that it often rains at Chelsea!

So, these hundreds of thousands of poppies have been individually crafted by people from a range of cultures, communities and ages, from two to 102 years old.  And almost every town in Australia has had a poppy collection point, and each poppy has a special and personal dedication attached to it.  This true Spirit of Remembrance is what Philip Johnson wants to bring all the way from Australia to Chelsea.

The story of how the red field poppy (Papaver rhoeas) came to be known as an internationally recognized symbol of Remembrance is itself quite an international affair.  It involves three people, in particular a Canadian soldier poet, an American teacher who became known as The Poppy Lady and a Frenchwoman who founded the American and French Children’s League for war orphans.

From its association with poppies flowering in the spring of 1915 on the battlefields of Belgium, France and Gallipoli this vivid red flower has become synonymous with great loss of life in war.

The sight of these delicate, vibrant red flowers growing on the shattered ground caught the attention of a Canadian soldier by the name of John McCrae. He noticed how they had sprung up in the disturbed ground of the burials around the artillery position he was in.

The wife of Field Marshall Earl Douglas Haig founded our UK poppy Factory in Edinburgh in 1926.  But due to ever increasing demand, the factory was then moved to its current site on Richmond Hill, in 1933.

Valerie McBride Munro – Chartered Horticulturist


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