Pride goeth before a fall.
Last January, I got a bit carried away with my extra-late blooming Kniphofia rooperi (aka torch lilies or red hot pokers). These little devils are supposed to bloom in September, but for as long as I've had them they have insisted on trying to bloom in December and January instead. Most years that spelled disaster, as the buds were inevitably decimated by a frost. More than once I was on the verge of digging them up. Then, for the last two years, something remarkable happened: the weather held up, and they bloomed.
If you have never seen Kniphofia rooperi blooming in the dead of winter, you don't know what you're missing. Although it's dramatic enough no matter when it blooms, when it's the only act in town it is stupendous. But was I satisfied? Could I just accept the blooms as a freak gift from the weather gods and leave it at that? Of course not. I wanted more.
What did I want? I wanted everyone in the neighborhood to know I had torch lilies blooming in January. I wanted everyone driving by to slam on the brakes and say, "What's that?" and "I must meet the gardener and get her autograph." Alas, my miraculous, mutant torch lilies were in my side garden, which is not visible from the street. So I hatched a scheme. The torch lilies would move up front. Never mind that they were safe and sheltered by the side of the house and would be unprotected and exposed to the elements up front; I had other fish to fry. Up front, in the company of my pyracantha and coral bark willow, they would be the eighth wonder of the world. Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.
Mid-November: so far, so good. My front-yard Kniphofia has tons of buds and, with a little help from contractor garbage bags and some spare bed sheets, has even survived two nights of temperatures in the 20s. Victory is mine. Fame and fortune are nigh.
Monday, November 25: the forecast calls for nighttime temperatures in the teens. I throw my homemade frost protectors over the plants and cross my fingers.
Tuesday, November 26: I learn many important life lessons. Leave well enough alone. Don't be greedy. Appreciate what you've got for as long as you've got it. Don't use garbage bags for frost cloth and expect it to work. And for heaven's sake, don't touch the extra-late blooming Kniphofia rooperi. They know what they're doing.
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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