26 June 2010

Kniphofia Phobia

This year the hopes and fears came true. The Tritoma, or I mean Torch Lily, or I mean Red Hot Poker, or I mean Kniphofia uvaria bloomed in grand style. The tiny seedlings were started indoors in spring 2008 as directed by the Ferry Morse seed packet. I had always admired these plants, although from afar, and relished the idea of growing them for myself. The seedlings sprouted, and promptly dampened off, leaving only three survivors.

The seedlings that resembled sprigs of grass saw their first outdoor sunlight in the front cottage garden. Expecting a spring bloom the following year, I used the summer to nurture and coddle my kniphofias into adulthood. By summer's end, the leaves began to rival the daylilies.

Winter turned into a Spring 2009 anticipation of a fruitful display after a year's work. But, the plant had other ideas. Leaves and more leaves, big leaves and then bigger-than-bearded-iris leaves arrived. The plant was on a bull market tear. It crowded out the purple salvia - completely. Had I not transplanted a salvia offshoot, I would have none.

Last winter, leaves were more or less evergreen, or more like everolivegreen. They resembled a deflated yucca, draped across the ground and browning around the edges. And this was the only plant visible in the front garden bed from the sidewalk. What would the neighbors think of their Master Gardener? My reputation was sinking.

Kniphofia care articles were consulted on the internet. Uh oh. This was normal. These things grow really big, especially after a gardener fertilizes them in an attempt to coax blooms. They get tangled, look crappy in the winter and most of summer when not blooming, and punish you with few blooms if you ever attempt to divide or move them. Fear set in.

This spring, the weird South African native named after Johannes Kniphof finally bloomed. Out of the three original plants now grown into one tangled mess, seven stalks emerged to redeem the neighborhood gardener. The straight spikes were like 5-foot tall (1.5 m) air traffic control towers, looming over the late spring bulbs, and taller than anything the front garden has ever seen. People noticed.

I think I must find a more appropriate place for these blue collar plants. A more well-behaved variety is needed in this location. Lots of photos of several varieties were found, but sellers of these plants need to be tracked down. And remember that these are admired from afar. I find them a bit ugly and unkempt close up.

For The Record:
  • Rich well-drained soil
  • Full sun, average water
  • Organic fertilizer in the spring
  • No pests
  • Consider unattractive leaves in fall through winter
  • Unusual height & flower gets ooo's & aah's

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: pink cosmos, cosmos, phlox, mexican zinnia, nicotiana, rose,
    coneflowers, salvia, late daylily, cleome, asian lily, hostas
  • Tomatoes and cucumbers set fruit


monteen said...

You have some very Beautiful photos and images on your blog, I just had to take a minute to let you know how lovely they are. I will continue to keep up with your site and the things that you are posting...Please keep up the good work..
Take Care

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Dirty Girl Gardening said...
I actually love those plants... they have great color in the foggy town I live in!
Jan (VA Zone 7A) said...
Well, at least it bloomed! I've had them before...and they look great while in bloom, but I agree, they don't look so hot before or afterwards. Mine have never managed to come up the year after I plant them...so, I've pretty much stopped acquiring more. Hope you find a place where you can feel better about showing it off;-)
Swimray said...
Thanks for the compliment. The deck/patio on your site looks great.

I hope to move this to a place where it is not visible close up, if it blooms after a move.