PLANT OF THE WEEK #38: Kniphofia 'Apricot Nectar'

Q: When is a non-native plant arguably native?  A: When it is bred here.  Such is the case with Kniphofia ‘Apricot Nectar’.  

Now before I get all red hot pokered by you lot for making such an outlandish statement, let me just say that this plant is a star.  And it’s orange.  It was bred by David Glenn, plantsman and nurseryman extraordinaire at Lambley Nursery just outside Ballarat.  If that doesn’t make it a true blue Aussie plant then I don’t know what does.

It has a lot in common with the large, striking red hot pokers we’re all familiar with.  It’s tough, it tolerates a lot of hardship and it’s easy to grow.  Where it differs is its stature, it’s comparatively tiny – tiny and gorgeous.   It’s strictly full sun, but is happy with afternoon shade from 2pm onwards, anything more and the flowers get a severe case of the leans.  The flowers are much more diminutive than the larger species and cultivars, flowering at about 40-50cm, from an airy, grassy tuft of mid-green foliage to around 30cm high and 40cm wide.  So it’s a great plant for pops of colour in low borders.  It punctuates my front garden with bright exclamation marks over a long period.  

I had coveted red hot pokers since first seeing them after moving to Victoria some 15 years ago now, when I was just beginning to become garden-conscious. The problem I faced after actually having a garden of my own was that all the species I was familiar with were large growing.  Too large for my small city garden.  They remained a plant firmly in the ‘longed for’ category until I stumbled on a dwarf at a nursery and the realisation of ‘You mean there are dwarf cultivars?’ was a decidedly Eureka moment.  The exultation that plants can bring, I hope I never tire of it.  The name ‘Apricot Nectar’ also never fails to remind me of the regrettable 70s culinary classic, chicken in apricot nectar.  Though, thankfully, the insipid orange colour this dish conjures up bears no resemblance to its kniphofia namesake.

Kniphofia ‘Apricot Nectar’ is more orange than apricot but there’s a period just when the green flower buds are developing colour that they have a more apricot hue to them, but the period is brief.  It gives way to a very vibrant orange once the flowers are fully mature, which stands out.  The plant commands attention.  Blend it with purples to coincide with it and it positively screams, possibly too loudly for some.  I always try and position it where it catches the last of the evening light, just as the sun is setting.  As the rest of the garden’s colour dulls with the falling light, the orange flowers look aflame when backlit, giving a heightened drama to sunset that only lasts 20 mins or so. You can find me savouring this moment daily, having a drink on the front step at precisely this time, like clockwork.

The main flowering event is November – early January in my experience, though if we get sudden summer dumps of rain it always throws up a spot flower here and there, though nothing like the number of flowers in the first flush, tragically. Irrigated, you can keep it flowering through to late summer, often into early autumn, though the flowers become less numerous as the season wanes.

It’s a fully winter deciduous dwarf kniphofia, with the foliage turning late and quickly in mid-winter, almost immediately from which its grass-like foliage starts growing again. This is the time to divide it and this is also one of the only downsides to this plant I can think of – to keep it looking good it needs dividing every 3 years or so.  Its roots have the habit of growing in a strangling way amongst themselves and the clumps lose vigour as a consequence.  But what gardener doesn’t love a bit of surgery every now and again?  After division they flower profusely, one small division will throw up at least half a dozen flowers over the spring and summer.

Native or not, it was certainly grown here rather than flown here, and it’s an easy plant to grow for high-impact, punchy colour.  Adorable is the way I mostly describe it.  There are yellow forms of the dwarf kniphofias too, where orange can be a bridge too far for some.  They all perform to differing degrees, but generally well enough as a group for this ‘arguably native’ to be considered for any sunny planting.  

James Beattie is a gardener working in Melbourne.  A graduate of Burnley, his work has since seen him traverse indigenous habitat restoration and management in the greater Melbourne area and writing content for Gardening Australia on ABC TV.  For the past three years he’s been running his own private gardening business focusing on plant-driven garden design and implementation.


  1. Hi James,
    You were so passionate about Kniphofia ‘Apricot Nectar’ that you completely convinced me it was time to seek it out. Alas! It seems to be available nowhere in Australia (out of stock everywhere I looked). Although you might be inundated with similar requests, I would happily buy some seed from you if you think it is a feasible prospect for a reasonably competent and careful gardener. (I live in Adelaide). I thought it was worth asking! Regards and thank you for such an inspiring contribution, Shona

    1. Shona. Cards on the table, it’s not easy to find. I should have mentioned. Also this cultivar is, I believe, an intergeneric hybrid, so it doesn’t produce viable seed. Division is the only way to multiply it.

      Other stout kniphofia include the ‘Poco Yellow/Orange/Red’ range. They grow a smidgin taller and are evergreen, with the foliage being a bit more bulky than ‘Apricot Nectar’ I’ve profiled here. They’re more widely available and perform similarly. I’ve seen and purchased them about Melbourne recently for clients, but from wholesalers. Talk to your local nurseries, they might be able to source them for you – local nurseries can be a great resource in this regard.
      All the best.

  2. I like kniphofias too. Especially Percy’s Pride, a somewhat unfortunate name. But has lime coloured pokers over a long period that are not too huge. Around 80 cm. Woodbridge nursery in Tas has a good selection of smaller ones .

  3. Thanks for this plant of the week, James. Kniphofias are a great asset to a summer planting. I have “Ascot Maid”, bought from Lambleys many years ago. It’s thrived in some pretty awful conditions and is still going strong.

    1. Some find the smaller cultivars a bit more water-hungry than the larger species, which they are to some extent. But still undeniably resilient.

  4. It took me ages to get used to the idea of growing Kniphofias in my garden. Not sure if it was their mouthful of a name, the hot fiery colours of most cultivars, or that picture I had lingering in my head of conspicuous spires covered in their lower half with spent flowers for weeks on end.
    That all changed when I got to see them grow in situ in their native habitat among proteas and grasses, when I got to appreciate their qualities.
    Today I have ‘Strawberry and Cream’ growing in my meadow styled frontyard, I like its subtle tones and the clean and tidy foliage that passes as a grass in winter.
    With regards to the question you raised on what constitutes a native plant, your story reminded me of a segment which aired on Gardening Australia last year regarding the Cape daisy which, after having spent decades in Australia had differentiated itself so much that it can no longer readily hybridise with its South African relatives. Be it through evolution or man’s hand, what constitutes a native plant ?

    1. Glad to hear you’ve gotten used to kniphofias, Gilles! And a great experience in South Africa seeing them in their natural communities by the sounds of it too. The observation of them blending nicely with grasses is a good one. I grow them in my borders mainly for their grass-like habit. I’ve got them bended with one of the very small miscanthus, which needs another year to get any heft about it, though they’re already making pleasing bedfellows with the kniphofia in their first growing season. I like ‘Strawberries and Cream’ too, it’s colour is a bit more demure than the ‘here I am!’ quality Apricot Nectar has about it.

      The speciation story you mentioned was a corker. I’ve been on both sides of the fence, so to speak, having worked to protect remnant vegetation as well as gardening with all manner of exotics. We used to have some great conversations about natives, exotics and where to draw the line when I worked in the bush. The ideas where broad, discussion robust and passions often running hot. I’m glad I spent so many years in that job, it made me a better gardener in many ways.

  5. Thanks for offering a different way to think about kniphofias. I have missed your writing and pics lately. Great to see you popping up here.

  6. I’ve had a lot of success with Kniphofia Lime Glow. I planted it 18 months ago together with Salvia Costa Rica and Salvia Corrugata, and it’s been in flower constantly. It’s one of the tall evergreen varieties, and while it gets watered occasionally, it’s dealt really well with the harsh Adelaide Hills summers.

    I’m on the hunt for my next Kniphofia. I’ve been trying to get hold of Tawny King as part of replicating NIgel Dunnett’s Barbican steppe planting without success ( Apricot Nectar looked like a good fit, but I can’t get it either.

    I found Shining Sceptre at a well known and fantastic nursery at Mylor and I think it will be fabulous. Unlike Apricot Nectar, it’s evergreen, but the flowers look very much like the Apricot Nectar shown in the photos above. I can’t wait to see it planted out and establishing with Achillea Terracotta and Salvia Caradonna.

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