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Kniphofia northiae (Red Hot Poker)

The flower grows to 2ft but the plant can have a spread of 4ft and slowly develops a small trunk. It has a touch of those huge tree-like Aloes from South Africa.

I first saw this growing in an exposed garden at the entrance to Salcombe Harbour in Devon. A huge spreading exotic with wide leaves with a kind of shallow ‘U’ shaped profile. I had absolutely no idea that it was an obscure species of Red Hot Poker – I just assumed it was some wildly tender exotic from South America that I hadn’t seen before because it would only survive in the almost frost free environs of the entrance to Salcombe Harbour.

Not a bit of it. Just another Red Hot Poker from South Africa that’s actually as tough as old boots. Just a lot weirder looking than most. Its obscurity might be because the flower – by most standards – is not very Red Hot and not for Poker-ish either. Stubby and stout and a muted red and yellow. We’re Architectural Plants so – naturally – have a greater interest in the shape of a plant than its flower. The conventional world of horticulture is bordering on the reverse of that philosophy; it’s all about the flowers and little about the shape. No wonder no one’s ever heard of this magnificent thing.

But – and this is quite a big but – to give it the conditions to grow like that first one I saw in Salcombe, remains a mystery. Masses of light, good drainage but an abundant supply of water down there somewhere. Around the same time I encountered this first one, I saw one growing nearby in the National Trust garden called Overbecks. A fine example but I must confess I’ve never again encountered one quite as magnificent as that one overlooking the harbour.

On the nursery, we find they come very close to the famous Salcombe Harbour one when put in a very large pot. Maybe they need need lots of fertiliser as everything on the nursery is always well fed.

Propagated from seed by us (when we can get any)

Hardiness traffic light green

Hardiness level Green

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Hardy anywhere in Britain below approximately 1000ft (300m)

This is only meant as a guide. Please remember we're always on hand to give advice about plants and their frost hardiness.

Please remember that these coloured labels are only a rough guide.

General Point about Plant Hardiness: The commonly held belief that it's better to 'plant small' is perfectly true with herbaceous plants, but not necessarily true with woody plants. They need some 'wood' on them to survive severe cold - so plants of marginal hardiness in very cold areas should really be planted LARGER, rather than smaller, wherever possible.