America may have given us the aeroplane, Bob Dylan and even the Big Mac, but another of its national treasures is the phlox family. All but one of the 60 or so species of this amazing plant family originate in North America and our gardens would be a lot poorer without their floral pageantry that can last from spring until the first frosts of autumn.
Best known and most commonly grown of all the family as forms of the border phlox, Phlox paniculata, a remarkably robust and long-lived perennial with sturdy, waist-high stems that become crowned with a head of flowers in late summer and early autumn. Each beautifully simple flower opens from an elegantly scrolled, point bud and is suffused with a deliciously sweet, yet slightly spicy scent. A large clump in full flower can lace the air with perfume on balmy evenings. Border phloxes are also lovely to use as cut flowers, mixed with roses and alstroemerias for a colourful cottage garden bouquet.
Although phlox are enjoying a surge of popularity at present, their heyday was undoubtedly in the early and middle part of the 20th century. One of the most influential champions of the phlox was English nurseryman Alan Bloom who collected and introduced many outstanding varieties. Some are still around today such as the pale lilac ‘Franz Schubert’, named after his favourite composer, ‘Eva Cullum’ with pink flowers and contrasting red centres and the very beautiful ‘Mother of Pearl’. Alan Bloom also discovered a variegated phlox growing in the garden of Norah Leigh in the 1960s and subsequently named it after the garden’s owner. Its creamy-edged leaves and pale pink flowers with deeper eyes are not to everyone’s taste, but it dos bring a pool of brightness to a shady border.
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