SIZZLING PERSONALITY

MY early morning tramps  around the garden, enjoying the fresh air and crystalline surfaces as the first of the sun’s rays hit the dewy foliage, are getting later and later now as the cold weather sets in. It’s harder to drag myself out from under the doona.

But the other day I had a grand pick me up in what was largely a dull grey week when I discovered my red hot pokers are out.

A straggly patch of these large and hardy lillies, native of South Africa,  has flourished quietly  in a very unloved and unfavoured part of the garden, literally ” poked” among some vicious spiked agaves and left to fend for themselves as prettier more needy species took my attention elsewhere.

Then a friend gave me some bulbs to add to the crop a few  years back. The whole bed has prospered and multiplied  –   no thanks to any care I have given them, I might add.  Now they form a healthy clump that has spread to about three metres. They are strong and hardy and reliably stunning every winter,  just when you think all the colour has gone out of the yard.

The name sounds menacing and painful but this is a fantastic feature plant and makes a real statement, so I wish I had planted some along  our driveway. Talk about making an entrance! They grow just about anywhere and in any soil and also very waterwise.

For their vigour, I understand,  in some areas they have become environmental weeds, alas. But they can be grown in pots, so that gets around that spreading danger if you live in such an area.

Their botanical name  is  kniphofia and the vibrant tangerine variety I have is  called  winter cheer –  and that they are! Their bright orange and yellow  flowers are a tonic on cold winter morning and a wonder of nature’s design skills. They have these complex heads of  a  torch-like cluster of small drooping tubular flowers, usually of two colours,  rising above the foliage on a stout erect stem. That’s also why they’re called torch lillies.

They produce large amounts of nectar so attract the honey-eating native birds like wattlebirds and rosellas  which feast in the flower spikes.

I think the name red hot pokers is perfect ….. It suggests sizzle and they surely add that  to the garden. As the sun’s rays catch them, they look like they’re alight and glowing.

They warm my heart.

I am going to resist picking them for vases. I like the way they nod and glow in the open air . They’re not conventionally beautiful and delicate like a rose or a camelia. They’re more Bette Midler than Nicole Kidman types and seem to say to the other wimpy plants who have gone to bed for their winter beauty sleep: ” Look smart; I’m putting on my best face and brightest smile to boogie, even if I am amongst dullards.”

They are plants with personality plus.

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6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jean said,

    Julie, these remind me of SA.. everybody has them planted on their pavement gardens.. so I can imagine back there they’d be flowering as well.. thanks for this post.. I’m forwarding it to all friends in SA.. x j

  2. 3

    colleen ryan said,

    very interesting/ Will look out for this plant next time I am at a nursery
    (not a great gardener so not surprising I don’t know about it)

    • 4

      Fancy that …. I wonder who the artist is? They do inspire painting because thy have such bright fantastic folds and shapes about them. Looking at plants counts as gardening, Liz. Why do you think they have the Open Garden scheme?

    • 5

      I will break some off the clump after they have finished flowering and bring them down to you, Colleen. Even “non-gardeners” can grow these successfully.

  3. 6

    Elizabeth said,

    Julie, as I write this I am looking at a painting of red hot pokers which I bought a few years ago from an artist on Coochiemudloe Island. She had taken her inspiration from a big clump of the plants near Morwong Beach on the northern end of the island. I have forgotten her name, but she was a former newspaper artist, aged in her 70 and still gong strong with art of all types, including still lifes of red hot pokers. Looking at her painting is about as close as I get to gardening at the moment.


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