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On Gardening: A pyromaniac for torch lilies

Norman Winter, Tribune News Service on

Published in Gardening News

Sitting on the couch sometime last winter with my trusty perennial catalogue in hand, I gawked over the Pyromania Red Hot Pokers, or torch lilies. We grew Red Hot Pokers at the Columbus Botanical Garden and at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden in Savannah. Why not at The Garden Guy’s house?

When they arrived and were sitting in the driveway, I told my wife, Jan, they had such a beautiful texture I would want them even if they never bloomed. Looking at the catalog that night, I selected Pyromania Backdraft and Pyromania Orange Blaze, two of the six varieties in the series that gives you choices in yellow, orange and red shades.

In my two previous experiences with the Red Hot Poker, they were both used in cottage garden settings, in the Columbus Botanical Garden close to the historic farmhouse and at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden, in the Cottage Garden next to the historic residence of the USDA Plant Introduction Station.

They were beautiful at both places and bloomed every year. Oddly I never saw anyone doing anything to them other than maybe pulling a weed or planting a companion. That tells you immediately they must not be too hard to grow.

My two selections that night have given me the most beautiful late spring season in my life. If they curled up and died tomorrow, I would say, "Wow, what a ride," and then do it all over again next year.

But they aren’t going to die. They are recommended for the most part from zones 5b to 9b. As I deadhead spent blooms, I see new bloom stalks developing. Even when not in bloom, the Pyromania Orange Blaze looks regal in my mixed containers, the shocking aqua blue ones Jan picked out.

The torch lily or Red Hot Poker is known botanically as Kniphofia, with its DNA tracing back to Africa. The Pyromania series are Kniphofia hybrids, reaching 30 to 36 inches tall with a 30-inch spread.

As a point of reference to their ease of growing, soil drainage is the requisite of paramount importance, and they need plenty of sun. Sunlight is my biggest challenge, as I am already cutting back salvias to give the Red Hot Pokers additional sunlight.

In your landscape you may be growing Ogon Japanese Sweet Flag and using it as a fine-textured grass. Perhaps you are growing Evergold Carex, a sedge, and using it as a fine-textured grassy element. You can do the same with the Pyromania series of torch lily or Red Hot Poker, whether they are in the landscape or as the thriller in a mixed container.

 

As the name suggests, the torch lily is in the lily family and looks like a grass except when it blooms, revealing some of the most beautiful flowers on the planet. The stunning flowers attract an assortment of pollinators, including hummingbirds.

As I eluded, the Pyromania Kniphofia hybrids are repeat bloomers. It is a sizzling show in the late spring and early summer, followed by additional blooms throughout the summer. In the landscape I am combining mine with the various colors of the Rockin' salvias. Whether Deep Purple, Blue Suede Shoes or Fuchsia, the combinations are highly complementary.

I am also combining them with Summerific Berry Awesome perennial hibiscus. Jan loves these but doesn’t even know they are out there yet. It will soon be a wonderful surprise, as I am seeing first buds start to form.

I am using the Pyromania Orange Blaze in the mixed aqua blue planters. These are the shorter of the Red Hot Pokers of the series and perfect in size. I have combined them with Superbells Grape Punch and the new Superbells Coral Sun calibrachoas in addition to Superbena Whiteout verbena and Illusion Emerald Lace Ornamental sweet potato.

The Pyromania series of torch lilies are waiting to add untold sizzle to your landscape when in bloom, and the perfect, fine-leaf grassy texture to contrast with all other foliage.

And yes, I was really holding a paper perennial catalogue that night — those are still really neat!

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Norman Winter receives complimentary plants to review from the companies he covers.)

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