Named in honour of the German physician and botanist Johannes Hieronymus Kniphof, the genus Kniphofia is native to South Africa, and it’s easy to see where its nickname of ‘Red-Hot Poker’ comes from, with its dramatic reddish-orange colour and striking architectural shape, with a strong, upright flower head produced from a rosette of long, narrow, tapering leaves and thick, fleshy roots.
With a lengthy flowering period (between March and November) Kniphofia will add vibrancy to your garden all summer long, and as some are known to grow up to 150cm in height, you won’t be able to miss them. However, they are suitable for smaller spaces too as some species grow to just 20cm. They’re perfect for coastal gardens and generally stay disease-free. Kniphofia range from fully hardy, weathering out the winter to temperatures as low as –15C, but the more tender of the species will need some protection over the winter months.
‘They can be grown from seed but named varieties need to be propagated by division,’ says Fiona Greenwold from Perennial Favourites in Blyth. This means that during the dormant period (late winter to spring) you’ll need to divide up established clumps, as propagation by division is the only way to increase named cultivars, which will not come true from seed.
For established plants, once the winter is over, leave the plants alone until the weather starts to warm up in mid-spring, as this will allow the old growth to protect the plant. As the temperatures creep up, remove any untidy-looking foliage and take the opportunity to check for slugs and snails, Fiona suggests, which can occasionally damage developing flowers.
‘They’re surprising as they look like a plant that would need dry conditions, and while some species of Kniphofia do need drier conditions, most grow naturally in places which have damp ground for part of the year,’ explains Fiona. ‘They prefer moist, fertile soil in a sunny spot – they can take a little shade but this will reduce the number of flowers produced.
In their native South Africa, hummingbirds and orioles are drawn to the vibrant colours to drink the nectar, while in the UK they will attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators – perfect for creating a garden that’s wildlife friendly. If you happen to have rabbits or deer visiting your back garden, Kniphofia are thought to be less susceptible to damage from these animals.
So far 26 species and cultivars have received the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the RHS, and if you’re looking for a more understated addition to your garden, you can find varieties with more subtle colouring such as green-y white, pale yellow and creamy white.
’They do have a tendency to go in and out of fashion,’ explains Fiona. ‘But we love them because they provide drama and vibrant colour, if that’s what you want, or there are more muted colours to add a subtle charm to your herbaceous borders. From the large and tough K. caulescens to the demure K. ‘Little Maid’, there’s a Kniphofia for everyone.’
For more information and other gardening advice, visit Perennial Favourites, in Blyth.