Fields of scarlet

wild flowers

A week ago, I heard via my shooting buddy, Jen that there was a field of wild poppies on the South Downs, about an hour and a half away from here.  The trip was more than rewarded. Perched high up on the South Downs overlooking the Solent, the poppies basked in the evening sun. We stood in that field for more than three hours and it felt like minutes.

West Sussex

We have a few varieties of field poppies in this country.  Poppy fields that spring up on fallow ground tend mostly to comprise the common poppy, papaver rheas.  The prickly poppy, papaver argemone, has smaller flowers and prefers lighter, sandy soils.  The rough poppy, papaver hybridum, is rarer, but its habitat is the chalky soils of the South Downs.  I must confess that I didn’t inspect the individual flowers very closely but looking at my pictures, the poppies we stood among were mostly common poppies.

poppy field

An individual poppy flower lasts only one day but a single plant can produce as many as 400 flowers.  That’s a lot of poppies.  I would guess ‘our’ field was only about half way through its flowering life – there were plenty of seed heads but also plenty of buds yet to open.

Poppy field 3

Another name for the common poppy is the corn rose. Ceres, the Roman goddess of corn was depicted wearing a wreath of common poppies. Poppies used to be a common sight in cornfields but selective herbicides and other modern farming practices have made this rarer. They do still pop up on land left fallow, but not in the same place two years running, which keeps landscape photographers on their toes!

West Sussex

Of course, this year the poppy is very topical, with the WW1 centenary.  These tough little plants, whose seeds needs rough handling to germinate, became the emblem of remembrance because they grew in such abundance on the disturbed soil of the battlefields.  I must confess, however, that standing surrounded by the flowers as they nodded gently in the evening breeze, war and death couldn’t have been further from my mind.

Poppy field 2

Mad Patsy said, he said to me,
That every morning he could see
An angel walking on the sky;
Across the sunny skies of morn
He threw great handfuls far and nigh
Of poppy seed among the corn;
And then, he said, the angels run
To see the poppies in the sun.


A poppy is a devil weed,
I said to him – he disagreed;
He said the devil had no hand
In spreading flowers tall and fair
Through corn and rye and meadow land,
by garth and barrow everywhere:
The devil has not any flower,
But only money in his power.


And then he stretched out in the sun
And rolled upon his back for fun:
He kicked his legs and roared for joy
Because the sun was shining down:
He said he was a little boy
And would not work for any clown:
He ran and laughed behind a bee,
And danced for very ecstasy.


– James Stephens In the poppy field 


21 thoughts on “Fields of scarlet

    • Hi Emilio
      Thanks. They’ve become something of a holy grail for photographers, mostly because their locations are so hard to predict. Every summer there are rumours. Some photogs are happy to share their locations and some keep them close. Last year I found one quite by chance.

  1. Utterly charming. Are all three varieties of your poppies red? Seems we have the golden orange out here and it has been doing the same moving around in my yard that you described. A couple of years ago, I had some volunteers pop up (presumably from a neighbor’s yard) and the following year, they reappeared, but in a new spot. I’ll take them wherever I can get them! 🙂

    California poppies (the same ones growing here in Oregon) used to cover entire fields out in the countryside, turning them golden orange. Such a lovely sight to see. Even more so when the purple lupines joined the poppies for a spectacular complimentary show of color!

    • Hi. All three of the poppies mentioned here are red but we have other indigenous varieties that are different colours: for example, the yellow horned poppy, which grows by the sea. In my garden I grow Californian poppies. Love them. They self seed so freely. I also grow opium poppies, oriental poppies and welsh poppies. I have tried Himalayan poppies and Icelandic poppies too but my soil is wrong for them.

  2. I love all sorts of poppies but I have never looked very closely at the wild varieties, assuming they were all the same. Now I am going to look more closely at them. Your first photograph is magnificent, I can see it finding its way into one of your exhibitions. Amelia

    • Thanks, Amelia. That one is my favourite too. Unfortunately, my next exhibition, the biggest one, is specifically Surrey images but I will definitely try to squeeze some poppies into the one after that. 🙂

    • Thanks. The South Downs are a range of hills in the south of England, mostly the countries of East and West Sussex (this field was in West Sussex). They are now a national park.

  3. Pingback: World War I and poppies | Dear Kitty. Some blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s