The cabinet minister who fell from grace, my late mother-in-law and phallic symbols

Lighting up the winter gloom on the North Taranaki roadsides

At this time of the year, the most cheerful splash of colour on a somewhat gloomy winter’s day comes from the ubiquitous red hot pokers that grace our roadsides. They make me smile, especially as I see them spreading and achieving what a lesser remembered Member of Parliament mooted, much to the chagrin of my late mother of law who is probably cringing in her grave.

I have told this anecdote before but I make no apology for repeating it. It returns to my memory every winter and I still think it is funny.

The MP was named Derek Quigley and he will have slipped from most people’s memories. He would have vanished from mine entirely, were it not for the kniphofia. Demoted from his Cabinet role in finance in 1981, he threw his energies – such as they were – into his minor portfolio of the day, which was tourism. International tourism was still pretty much in its infancy back then. His frightfully clever idea was to plant up the roadsides with a different plant – all exotic introductions – for each of the provinces. Canterbury, he suggested, could be themed with cherry trees. That would suit the grace, tradition, class and Old Money that some saw as characterising his home province. I don’t recall what the other provinces were to be allocated but as the man was neither horticulturist nor gardener, they would have been random plants that he knew the names of.

Taranaki, well, Taranaki was to be clothed in roadside red hot pokers, he suggested.

Enter my mother-in-law, Mimosa. She was given to lengthy anecdotes but was not without a sense of humour. To this day, I remember the car journey where she was aghast at Quigley’s plans. She regaled us with a complicated story from her childhood, replete with plenty of extraneous detail where none of us could see quite where the story was headed. We were a captive audience in the car, you understand. The upshot was that her sex education in her childhood (presumably late 1920s) began and ended with being given a book on the topic. I imagine the book to be along the lines of the Flower Fairies of Sex Education because Mother was a blushing violet; Father – he was a red hot poker.

Father was a red hot poker (!!!!)

Forty years on, Nature is achieving what Derek Quigley failed. The roadsides of North Taranaki are increasingly clothed in what were undeniably, irredeemably, inescapably phallic symbols to Mimosa.

Chalk a victory up for the former cabinet minister, even though he had nothing to do with this scene today

There is little variety in the roadside plants which I assume are all just Kniphofia uvaria. In looking this up, I found that Auckland Botanic Gardens did a trial of different named cultivars to see which were the best performers there but I have no idea on how readily available these are to buy.

Tawny kniphofia at the Barbican in London

We noticed on our last visit to the UK in 2017 (and, sadly, that may turn out to be our very last visit) that kniphofia were very popular as garden plants. I would quite like to get hold of this pretty tawny one we saw used extensively in the elevated garden at the Barbican if anyone has seen it in New Zealand. Beyond that, we may have to make do with the red and yellow forms we have and the splendid pure yellow I showed a couple of weeks ago. The yellow will be a named form; we just don’t know the name.

6 thoughts on “The cabinet minister who fell from grace, my late mother-in-law and phallic symbols

  1. robynkiltygardensnz

    I used to have a Kniphofia in one of my gardens just like the ones you saw at the Barbican – not quite so phallic as some, but the same apricot/yellow colour graduating in the same way along the thinner bendier stems – just as in your photo! . I never knew that name of it, but always felt slightly ashamed of it as it was never as vigorous as other colours or varieties. Also I never knew where it came from – it was just there!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      There appear to be vigour issues with a number of the named varieties. Mark bought a couple of named dwarfed varieties from Parva. I think in about six years, one may have put up one flower. They are hardly thriving.

  2. Paddy Tobin

    ‘Tawny King’ might fit the description. It is one we grow here in the garden. Your mother in law certainly liked to talk in a wandering about manner – I am married to such a woman! (Where is she going with this story?” comes regularly into my mind.)

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I am not sure Tawny King is in NZ but thanks for that.
      The remarkable thing about my late mother-in-law’s stories was that while the meandered all over the place, she never lost sight of the end point!

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