Plant of the Season – Autumn 2016
For many years, whilst running Edrom Nurseries, I grew a neat little plant called Kniphofia galpinii which I had obtained from Jack Drake’s legendary nursery in Aviemore. Clearly a hardy member of Asphodelaceae, native to the mountains of South Africa. Having moved on from my base in Berwickshire I re-obtained the species from a new source and have since enjoyed growing a slight variation of the foregoing species, taller growing and a little more robust. I have determined that my later acquisition was Kniphofia triangularis which can attain to 60 cm in an open, sun-drenched site.
This is a most valuable plant as it produces its first spikes of flower as late as October running on to late November. I have it positioned to the front of a mature Daphne retusa – I suspect that this position was unplanned, however it works admirably having a strong evergreen background for the grassy foliage and slender spikes of vibrant orange in the autumn. This species was first introduced to the UK by celebrated plantsman and ornithologist Collingwood Ingram, 1880-1981 in 1927 (famed for the marvellous Omphalodes ‘Cherry Ingram’).
Kniphofias have rightly become more popular in recent years with some delightful new Cultivar Groups entering the trade and with some relief, accompanying a new publication, “Kniphofia: The Complete Guide, published by the RHS. This volume, written by Christopher Whitehouse will go a long way to sort out the taxonomy of this popular genus and increase the popularity of these “Red Hot Pokers”.
I have found that the species establishes itself quickly, assuming a decent sized clump (up to 45cm spread) which can be lifted and carefully divided during the growing season. I favour a less radical approach to division just before flowering but would always give the clump a complete soaking a day before action starts. I would suggest taking a smaller garden fork and going around the perimeter of the plant carefully easing away the sturdy growth. You will easily assume a dozen or so divisions without disturbing the whole mother plant. Having eased away plenty of material with slightly damaged roots, these should now have the top 50% of vegetative foliage cut back to reduce transpiration (water-loss). The plantlets can now be potted up in deep 9cm pots to become established propagules. During the first few winters until established, I would give the over-wintering crowns a generous mulch of leaf mould.
I can strongly recommend this species for a sunny well-drained position and how wonderful it looks when associated with a few autumn-flowering Gentians, such as GG. ‘The Caley’, ‘Alex Duguid’ as well as late-flowering Sedum ‘Vera Jameson’ or S. cauticolum.
Look out for either Kniphofia triangularis or K. galpinii at the following nurseries:
BlueBell Nursery, www.bluebellnursery.com
Kevock Garden Plants, www.kevockgarden.co.uk
Pine Cottage Plants, www.pcplants.co.uk
Avondale Nursery, www.avondalenursery.co.uk