Wednesday, April 13, 2016 - 12:45

The temperature was turned up at the Eden Project yesterday and today as thousands of red hot pokers have been planted in the new Bright Sparks garden.

A team of more than 20 gardeners dug in around 100 species and cultivars of the distinctive South African plants, the centrepiece of the biggest and boldest new planting scheme since Eden opened 15 years ago.

In total, the team has installed nearly 8,000 plants, including 2,000 red hot pokers and a variety of other vibrant perennials, over two days to create the Bright Sparks garden.

The gargantuan effort follows the lowering in of 20 Chinese windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) in the same area last week.

The red hot pokers are due to start flowering later this year and will provide a blaze of colour for many months.

Julie Kendall, Eden's lead outdoor horticulturist, said: “We love red hot pokers at Eden and the sea of vibrant colour created by thousands of them in one area is going to make a bold statement as one of the first things our visitors see when they arrive and look down.

“They are a plant that inflames passions among gardeners and are relatively easy to grow at home.

“Give them full sun and good drainage and they should thrive. A mixture of varieties can extend the flowering season from May to October and, because they produce large amounts of nectar, they will attract bees and other pollinators to the garden.”

Red hot pokers come in many different sizes, shapes and colours and Eden’s Bright Sparks exhibit will showcase the best and most vibrant:

  • The diminutive Kniphofia ‘Papaya Popsicle’ is an orange and yellow variety that only grows to 30cm high and flowers from June to October.
  • Contrasting this are the towering yellow ‘Dingaan’ – named after a Zulu king - and ‘Nobilis,’ another large cultivar whose flowers are a vibrant orange fading to yellow lower down the flower spike. These can both reach over a metre tall.
  • ‘Tetbury Torch’ is an orange-yellow variety that has two flowering seasons – early June and late summer.
  • While most pokers boast long flower spikes, K. rooperi has a large, egg-shaped flower head of glorious orange and yellow blooms.
  • Red hot pokers usually flower either red, orange, coral or yellow, but some at Eden will boast different colours, including the green flowers of the ‘Green Jade’ and ‘Mermaiden,’ the peach-pink blooms of ‘Safranvogel’ and the orange-brown tipped cream flower spikes of ‘Toffee Nosed.’

Kniphofias have fallen in and out of fashion at various times over the years and, during the Second World War, it is thought that many varieties were lost as land was reclaimed for vegetable growing.

They remain a favourite in contemporary gardens, however, and there are so many species and cultivars that most people will find a plant that suits them.

As well as red hot pokers and Chinese windmill palms, Bright Sparks will showcase flowing grasses and vibrant perennials from the southern hemisphere, particularly South Africa, in the “new naturalism” style.

When the slope was originally planted, it was the backdrop to a temporary food and education camp and showcased a mix of grasses. Over time, the whole area became dominated by invasive Phalaris grass which has now being cleared to make way for the Bright Sparks planting.