A couple of plants I’m really fond of are Dicentra formosa or Wild Bleeding Heart and Kniphofia rooperi, the red hot poker plant They are the first plants I learnt as a child in the garden I grew up in.
You don’t seem to see wild bleeding heart much these days but it is a pretty little feathery-leaved plant with pale pink locket-shaped flowers. For some reason it seems to have fallen out of fashion or at least it is not as ubiquitous as I remember.
Kniphofia on the other hand seems to have a renaissance with new varieties being produced year on year. All shapes, all sizes they have come a long way from the species plant with its magnificent pokers and slightly less magnificent strappy leaves that hung around looking progressively less attractive by the day. Newer varieties have finer leaves that take up less space around the plant.
But I remain very attached to pokers as to me, although they signalled the end of summer, the vibrant orangey-red spikes were far and away the most colourful things in the garden. The name fascinated (and slightly scared) me. Red hot pokers, were they hot? Would they burn me if I touched them? Such are the garden thoughts of small children!
As an older (and allegedly wiser) adult I appreciate the varieties here at Helmsley. You’ll find K. rooperi in the gravel border along the east wall and K. ‘Toffee Nose’, ‘Light of The World’, ‘Royal Standard’ and ‘Percy’s Pride’ to name but a few along the Hot Border.
‘Percy’s Pride’ is greeny yellow with a creamy white base, grows to around 1.2m and flowers like most varieties from mid-summer through to autumn. At the other end of the colour scale ‘Royal Standard’ is pillar box red on top with a butter yellow bottom and very eye catching, topping off at around 1m tall.
There are many more to choose from if you fancy adding a late zing to your border. There’s more than just orange to choose from. All red, all yellow, even green with K. ‘Limelight’ which I have to say I rather fancy. I’m not sure quite where I’d put it, here or at home but it is a beautiful lime green and very striking.
Other pokers in yellow include ‘Bee’s Lemon’ which has lime green buds opening into bright yellow flowers lasting for several weeks. ‘Bee’s Sunset’ is streaked with shades of orange and apricot giving the appearance of an evening sky and has the added attraction of bearing its flowers on handsome bronze stems.
One of the best things about all the pokers is that are generally very long lived and as a genre they are mostly hardy as all get out. They’re pretty problem free as well. Give them a site in full sun in a reasonably well-drained and fertile soil (they don’t like wet feet over winter so it can’t be too clayey) and they will happily flower their socks off. Established plants can be divided in late spring and an annual mulch around the clump (but not over the crown) will help keep it in tip top shape.
Happy on the coast as well as inland, they do not require much in the way of looking after. The old foliage protects the crown of the plant over winter. Any dead leaves can be removed in mid-spring which also gives you the chance to check for any slugs or snails that need evicting. If you feel compelled to grow anything that isn’t fully hardy, use a bit of fleece to protect over winter. Deadhead regularly and they will repay with a fabulous display. What’s not to love.
Tricia Harris September 2020