Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)

If plants are strategically placed, the gardener, like a master builder, can draw eyes towards heaven.

kniphofia flower and blue sky

Photo: Mypouss (flickr)

The two feet wide plants grow up to four feet tall when in bloom.

In her book “The Once and Future Gardener,” Virginia Clayton provides examples of articles that were published in popular American gardens magazines between 1900 and 1940.  One article by Helen Wilson focused on spire-like flowers.  She also called them “steeped flowers” evoking the image of a church steeple pointing heavenward in an English village.

In high summer in our gardens, we can use red-hot poker flowers, sometimes called torch lilies, to provide erect spikes.  They are members of the Lily family and their botanical name is Kniphofia.

Plant Your Own

These perennials like full sun and moisture, but must have good drainage, especially in winter.  Cut the flower stalks to the ground after blooms fade and cut the foliage back when it looks unkempt.

They rarely need division, but off-sets can be cut from the sides of the clumps in the spring.  The two feet wide plants grow up to four feet tall when in bloom.  Many cultivars are available, most in hot colors.

Wilson wrote that the artistic placement of spire plants is an intriguing game.  One must keep the width of the bed a little greater than the tallest possible spire.  Otherwise the spires appear precariously placed.  However, if plants are strategically placed, the gardener, like a master builder, can draw eyes towards heaven.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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