On which brilliant blooms are best
One African flowering perennial that remains boringly untidy over much of the year always takes us by surprise when it comes into flower. The clusters of brilliantly-coloured flower spikes suddenly open to dominate the garden. The displays which can occur at any time of the year – including midwinter – last for several weeks. Finally they revert to a crumpled mess of floppy, grass-like leaves to remain half-forgotten until they next time.
Kniphofia plants are called Red-hot Pokers because some produce giant-sized, tight clusters of red-tipped bright yellow blooms.
Most of us absent-mindedly and instinctively avoid them when hacking away with a hoe. Yet, despite their modest appearance when not in flower, kniphofi- as are marvellous value in any ornamental garden.
They are named after a German botanist J.H. Kniphof, which is why the correct pronunciation is ‘nip-hoffia’ and not the commonly used ‘niff-offier’. Not that it matters because these are extraordinarily beautiful plants. There are about 70 different species and countless cultivated varieties. All are remarkably hardy and in most parts of Tasmania.
What makes them so extraordinary, apart from hardiness, is the wide range of flower colours produced by different cultivars some of which are in bloom at any time. They are also drought resistant and appear to tolerate all soil types from sandy loam to heavy clay.
Some of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen were growing in black clay and never watered or given fertilisers while others, clearly thrived in sandy, coastal soils despite being regularly blasted by salt-laden winds. I’ve even spotted kniphofias growing to perfection in a scree-strewn mountain garden, thousands of metres above sea level.
They can also be planted out or clumps lifted and divided at virtually any time of the year, although after flowers fade is
What makes them so extraordinary, apart from hardiness, is the wide range of flower colours produced by different cultivars
probably the best time.
The name Red-hot Poker usually describes some of the most common, easily-grown species such as K. uvaria and related cultivars. They are often found in cottage gardens or perennial borders. From the crumpled mess of leaves shoots a cluster of long straight stems, some about chest high and topped with fiery, dull scarlet flower heads with soft, glowing yellow lower parts.
Kniphofias also come in smaller sizes. There are numerous dwarf forms and others grow up to 2m in height which stems as thick as pick handles. Here are a few varieties which may be purchased at any time of the year.
Apricot Nectar is a dwarf variety which grows a little over half a metre and flowers during summer, sometimes for weeks. Percy’s Pride is another dwarf with huge greeny-gold flower heads that bloom around early summer. Alcazar bears soft, coral-red, slightly drooping flowers through summer and into autumn.
All blooms make excellent cut flowers if you can find vases heavy enough to hold them up.
Taller forms of these wonderful flowering plants include K. Grandiflora with massive late winter flowers, some almost a third of a metre long on the ends of 2m long stems.
Winter Cheer produces a brilliant, glowing red display right in the middle the dullest, gloomiest winter and is a total delight.
Maid of Orleans carries creamy-white flowers from early spring to summer and Winter Gold actually starts flowering during autumn and often carries through to winter.
All kniphofias thrive in full sun and although the plants may grow strongly, fail to bloom or produce poor, ragged flowerheads in too much shade.
In reasonable soil they need little feeding. Once planted they resent disturbance, so avoid digging around them. Old, crowded and badly-congested clumps should be carefully lifted, all soil blasted from the roots and divided during spring or late summer.
Seeds germinate readily in a good quality seedling-raising mix in flats or pots but the resultant seedlings usually differ, sometimes quite markedly, from parent plants – but still carry great, colourful flower heads.