Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I was mesmerized by a summer meadow splashed with bright pink Carolina phlox (Phlox caroliniana). To meet a plant in its habitat is to know it. Native to the Southeast, border phloxes (Phlox caroliniana and P. paniculata) are at home in cultivated gardens if you give them what they want: rich, humus-filled, moisture retentive soils and six to eight hours of sun.
Photo courtesy of JC Raulston Arboretum
Phlox is quite variable, from sun-loving species to woodland blossoms. In Triangle gardens, you will be guaranteed fragrant flowers and butterflies.
Phlox can grow three to five feet tall with dense heads of brightly colored flowers. Pinks, purples and whites are typical, though candy-striped flowers and variegated foliage are available. Buying the species is a good idea since they are more mildew-resistant. Location is important; good air flow helps defy mildew. But beware – deer find phlox quite tasty.
My two favorites come from Mississippi where mildew is part of life. From Lynn Libous Bailey comes ‘Delta Snow’ (Phlox paniculata) with white, purple-eyed, fragrant blossoms on three-to-four-foot stems. Former nurserywoman Gail Barton named ‘Robert Poore’ (Phlox paniculata.) for a noted ecological planner. It has rich medium-pink flowers atop five to six foot stems.
From the Northeast, pure white fragrant ‘David’ was selected from a stand of native plants and awarded Perennial Plant of the Year in 2002. Back in the South, ‘David Lavender’, a relative of ‘David’, offers exceptional mildew resistance.
For electric colors, ‘Nicky’ (Phlox paniculata) is a velvety deep magenta. By contrast, ‘Franz Schubert’ (Phlox paniculata) bears flowers of pale lavender with dark lavender brush strokes on 24-to-36-inch tall stems.
Pleasing companions to phlox include daylilies (Hemerocallis cultivars) and Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis) planted at their feet along with blazing star (Liatris spicata), shasta daisy ‘Becky’ (Leucanthemum superbum), feather reed grass ‘Karl Foerster’ (Calamagrostis arundinacea), and purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida).
Once established, share phlox with friends through divisions of these easy-to-dig, shallowly rooted perennials. The species may also throw some seedlings worth growing. Cuttings taken from the top six to eight inches of non-flowering shoots are another way to propagate phlox.
Kim Hawks is an avid gardener in Chapel Hill. You may reach her at [email protected]