The blazing yellow torch lilies (Kniphofia) in Barbara Duno's Santa Fe garden look like pampered prima donnas. The truth is, though, despite their showy appearance, these rugged South African perennials are well suited to cooler parts of the Southwest. "Kniphofia do very well in my garden. They handle alkaline soil, dry weather, and quite a bit of frost," says Duno. Kniphofia hybrids like the ones she grows tolerate conditions in Sunset climate zones 2a-3b (Flagstaff, Taos, Prescott).
Duno prefers flowers in warmer shades. Besides the citron-colored torch lilies, a second, taller torch lily adds a dash of orange. She also grows California poppy, Mexican hat, 'Persian Yellow' rugosa roses, and shrubby potentilla (in pots). Violet Penstemon strictus provides a gentle contrast.
Plant kniphofia in a sunny location as soon as the soil can be worked in spring. Set the rootball slightly higher than the surrounding soil to prevent crown rot in winter. Water regularly until plants get established. Once they are, torch lilies will sustain considerable drought. If you want a spectacle like the one in Duno's garden, give them regular water while they're forming buds.
INFO: If you can't find kniphofia at local nurseries, order from High Country Gardens ( www.highcountrygardens.com or 800/925-9387).