Sowing Poppies for Wally, John and Jean

double poppy

Wally and John

My Mom always made sure I had some quarters to put in the box at school on Poppy Day. Though I had never seen a real poppy, I knew that wearing a red plastic poppy meant I was remembering war heroes and their sacrifices.

grave stone of W. R. Herdman
grave and photo of
Walter R. Herdman
photo credit: Ed Armbrust

It wasn’t until forty years later that I learned of my mother Jean’s personal connections with war and loss. When she was a young girl, her uncle, Gunner Walter Ridley Herdman, died in France. I can only imagine how great an impact his loss would have had on his family, including his niece Jean. Wally is buried in France in a cemetery along with 3,000 other allied war casualties. Wally was only 22 when he died.

John Herdman

Walter’s brother John also fought in World War II. John only learned of his brother’s death after he came home. Throughout the rest of his life, John would often share Walter’s story with family, including his nephews and nieces.

In 2014 Walter’s grave was visited by a high school group from his home town. Before leaving for the trip, they researched and shared insights from service records with families. On Wally’s grave they placed a stone, a small piece of his hometown.

On a more recent visit, Ed and his wife left a Canadian flag and a poppy at the grave. They also placed a copy of the snapshot of Walter family had provided to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.

When I see a red poppy, I remember Wally and John. I think of the sacrifices they made for me and for others.


Flowers can mark humble graves too. The beauty and fragility of flowers remind us of the delicate nature of life itself. Wally and John’s niece Jean is buried at the intersecting paths of Rose and Sanctuary at a cemetery in the city where she made her home.

young woman sitting on side of bridge, creek and trees behind
Jean in the 1960s

I grew up in that same city in the 1970s and 1980s. Cracker Jack and cereal boxes contained small prizes, usually plastic toys. I wasn’t much interested in prize inserts until my mom Jean found some packages of potato chips containing seed packets for zinnias and California poppies. At first I wasn’t convinced that exotic-sounding flowers like zinnias and poppies could grow in Northern Ontario. My mother, however, was planning on expanding the flower bed at the front of the house. She thought I should plant some of the seeds and she was willing to give me some of the space for my new plants.

The zinnias I planted did well in that sunny space. I loved the bright pink and orange petals. The California poppies thrived too. Unlike the red poppies I had heard about, these ones bloomed in shades of yellow and orange. While the zinnias were done after that first season, the poppies reseeded themselves for many years.

zinnias in the corner
flower garden
expanded garden with double pink poppy

After my mom died, I decided to plant a small garden in her memory. It started in a small corner of the yard where I grew a beautiful crop of zinnias. The next year, I expanded the garden down the driveway to the edge of the street. My neighbor Maureen shared some plants with me including some beautiful double-pink poppies. They bloomed early and reseeded themselves every year we lived there.

When I see yellow and pink poppies, I remember my humble mother Jean. I think of the love we shared and the space she made for me in her garden.

Poppies for Wally, John and Jean

When you see a red poppy, remember our veterans and the war heroes who did not come home. Remember their families and others who suffered because of these conflicts. Think of the Flanders poppies blooming early where nothing else could survive.

When you see a yellow or a pink poppy, think of those you cherish. Reflect upon the gifts that have been nurtured in you and consider how you can share them with others. Contemplate the beauty and fragility of life.

This is how peace, love and poppies are sown.

Growing Poppies

The following Eden Brothers’ video features the interesting history of different varieties of poppies, including the Flanders and double-pink types. It also includes some good planting and growing tips.

Tips for Planting and Growing Poppy, Eden Brothers

You can decide if you would like to buy your seeds from “The Seediest Place on Earth” or elsewhere. (I haven’t seen seeds in chip bags for many years and I do not endorse any particular brands.)



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