Phlox Paniculata Rant

The very first gardening book I ever read was a birthday gift from my husband, after we had purchased our first house, in Pennsylvania. It was a thrilling time, my very own dirt! The year was 1976. The book was Garden Wizardry by Richard C. Davids, former editor of Better Homes and Gardens and Farm Journal. It was my bible. It still rests on the bookshelves with other treasured tomes.

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This book was always taken on plant buying forays, for I knew nothing at all about anything garden-wise, except that I wanted a pretty garden with lots of flowers. The names, latin or common, were meaningless to me, except roses, the first things bought and planted. In the perennial section, flowers that come back every year, what a miracle!, was the listing for Phlox, (Latin names were not included in this book). There is a warning about keeping the nice varieties deadheaded or they will all revert back to the *degenerate offspring* of the wild mauve color. He says, “The plants you buy don’t change color-only an act of God or atomic radiation will do that-but if you allow flowers to set seeds, those seeds produce plants that revert to a more primitive color, usually magenta. The primitive types are more vigorous too, and without your knowing it, they crowd out their parents.”

Faithful readers, (thanks and virtual kisses to you all!), will know that there is one thing that riles up the hackles at the Fairegarden like nothing else, it is the snobbery against Nature’s Own Colors. These prejudices existed and were readily excepted by the home gardening masses like sheep for many years. Baa baa. Thank goodness, present day has seen a growing awareness and appreciation for the wild species of most things, for the very reason of their being more vigorous and needing less water and maintenance.

Tall garden phlox, fall phlox, perennial phlox and garden phlox are all common names for Phlox paniculata, the species name meaning the flowers are in groups of panicles.

The current garden is the first place where this plant has been allowed to grow, mostly because of the advice from that long ago book. It was one of scores of passalongs from my neighbor when the garden was first planted after being cleared and terraced by the backhoe. I didn’t really want it, to be honest, and stuck the large clump in a back corner, behind the row of Hemlocks. It was completely forgotten until the next fall, when the mauve flowers stood tall and bright against the silver chain link fence. It wasn’t half bad, was the thinking. It bloomed at a time, July into fall, when there was an appalling lack of color and flowers and had received no water or pampering in any way. It was moved to the Daylily Hill, to offer interest after the Hemerocallis were finished.

Pollinators adore the Phlox of all types, including the white Phlox paniculata ‘David’ which we also grow.

There is a problem, for some gardeners in hot and humid climates like ours, of mildew on the tall Phlox, among others. My brilliant solution to that is to not look at it. Besides, having a mixed planting that includes grasses and more healthy looking foliage mixed in helps camouflage any unsightly acts of nature. The garden here is mostly viewed from afar, from the deck and through the glass sliders. Globs of magenta mixed with yellows, oranges and whites look just fine to these eyes. Sometimes it is best to relax the white-knuckle grip of control, especially in the garden, to maximize health and happiness.

Some plant facts:

Native Perennial Phlox paniculata is a sun loving plant occurring in rich or rocky open woods from Maine to South Dakota and Manitoba, south to Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Zones 4-8, (Polemoniaceae family) Large heads of fragrant magenta flowers can grow 8 in. across. They are very showy in the landscape when grown in moist soil. The flowers attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds and are good cut flowers.

Grow in full sun to part shade in moist soil. Plant in an area with plenty of ventilation to prevent mildew. (We have no moist soil and it grows just fine.) (See above about the mildew).

Perennial border, native garden, cut flower garden, butterfly garden.

36 to 48 inches

24 to inches

Deep Pink/Rose

USDA Hardiness Zone:
4 – 8

This is a plant portrait of a native wildflower to join in with Gail of Clay and Limestone’s Wildflower Wednesday. Visit her site to check out others and/or add your own post to the Mister Linky magic.


This entry was posted in Plant Portrait, Rants, Wildflowers. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Phlox Paniculata Rant

  1. Vicky says:

    Phlox are my best summer bloomers but I have had a problem for the last few years with a little black and orange insect which eats the tops out and keeps them from blooming. I have tried all kinds of sprays but the bugs are aggressive. Anyone else have these? I don’t know what they are.

    • Pip Mason says:

      HI there. I asked Google if Phlox David is available in NZ. Is this where you are? I had Davids in Canada and desperately want them here.
      Pip Mason

      Hi Pip, I am in Tennessee, USA. Good luck on your search for Phlox ‘David’, it is worth the extra effort to find.

  2. Phlox, the wild flower… well, I suppose it has to come from somewhere! 😉
    I’ve wanted to make more of them for years. Problem is that their long dull season leads to my forgetting about them until the next year they flower. Besides, I’ve only ever found two or three varieties sold locally. Must propagate them as soon as they come to life – root cuttings, if I remember correctly??
    Oh, and I better give a midwinter thought to WFW…

  3. Paul Daniels says:

    “Never use magenta in your flower border.” The garden design book I read that in had some good ideas, some OK ideas and it had that one, the never us magenta in your flower border. That nugget relegated that book to use a door stop to the back porch for awhile. It’s sentence being over I put the book back on the shelf but I still laugh when I think of that statement and laugh when I look out on my garden and see all the beautiful magenta phlox covered with bees, butter flies and humming birds….I grow “David” and though mildew RESISTANT, ain’t no pholox paniculata mildew PROOF but the plastic varieties that I know of…..I grow a sport I of “David” called ‘David Lavender’ but like Allan Armitage says and he’s right from my experience, its just not as vigorous a grower and mine is a more mildew prone that the original ‘David’. I grow something else too called ‘Dr.Gihvan’. its a magenta variety that has a nice color, good mildew resistance and the stems stand nice and tall and its a terrific bloomer……..As far as the native phlox panicuata, I got two stands in a containers and as long as they got room to breathe, no problems…..when a phlox does get mildew I try to keep the leaves stripped from the lower stems and it doesn’t seem to hurt the overall effect and beauty of the plants, at least not to me…..I might be a snob but I ain’t a big snob, just a big gardener. At 6’8″ tall its a good thing I ain’t a real snob cause I’d be the biggest snob in the gardening world……..:-)

  4. Gail says:

    My dear, I also have Phloxy ladies and gents for WW~You know, great minds and of course, wildflower aficionados adore phlox in the summer! I love the many colors the seedlings bring and never have minded the color of magenta. I even love it with Screaming School Bus Yellow~Another color that gets maligned. Miss the heck out of you, Semi, the other Flingers and that marvelous cool weather! xxoogail

  5. Gail says:

    PS I am so tired I forgot to tell you how much I enjoyed this post and seeing your phloxy beauties! The flower in bud is perfection and so is the darling bee! xog

  6. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    You are speaking of one of my favorites Frances. I have them scattered all over the back garden. They never fail to wow me with their exuberance and fragrance this time of year.

  7. Lisa says:

    I’m amazed on how beautiful those flowers are. My favorite is the white one. So pure. Love it.

  8. Nutty Gnome says:

    I’m growing Phlox for the first time this year and it stands out as a wonderful beacon of colour in a fairly boring bed. I’m going to be thinking about that bed over winter, but the phlox will stay!
    Love your glorious photos 🙂

  9. Rose says:

    Ha, I love your solution to the mildew on phlox:) I’m growing my very first phlox this year, and it seems to have some mildew, too, but I’ve just been letting it go and looking at the blooms instead. Your comment about the offspring is timely: I just commented on Gail’s post that I purchased a division from a friend this spring who assured me it was a white one. Much to my surprise, when it bloomed, it turned out to be magenta! Ah well, I practice the principle of tolerance, too, and all colors and creeds are welcome in my garden.

  10. Marilyn says:

    I love phlox! Mine have just started to bloom. I also let whatever comes up stay and grow in my garden, unless it is one of the prickly weeds, dandelions, or the tumbleweeds that blow all over creation out here on the eastern plains. ♥♫

  11. Racquel says:

    I like your solution to the mildew issue with Phlox Frances, lol. That’s been my philosophy for years now. 😉 It’s a great plant, I have several types in my own garden too. 🙂

  12. I love the self-sowing phlox, but my surprises tend to be a deep coral, rather than the magenta. I don’t care…the two colors are mixing fine. I’ve not had ‘David’ change colors. My zinnias change colors, shapes and double or single, even on the same plant from all the cross-pollination. With our climate and conditions, anything that self-sows and grows and looks good is welcome. I’m using more native plants, but those rascally deer nipped the new blooms off my Joe Pye this week! I tested a Joe Pye last year and they didn’t touch it… this tells me that the deer are running out of food already this summer. It’s usually late August when they eat something that they usually ignore. Sorry to go off-topic, but the fact that I am growing fewer prima donna plants and going with natives is helping in my garden’s survival.

  13. linda says:

    Amen to your rant against that sort of snobbery Frances! I too remember reading that silly advice many, many years ago. Being somewhat of a rebel at heart, and even more so back in the ’70s when I had my first garden, I let those delicately-colored phlox seed themselves to their little hearts’ content, and enjoyed every single magenta baby they made.

  14. I love your photos and I love Phlox, too! I actually love to see new colors and the more the merrier, in my opinion. Your photo w/the Rudbeckia in the background is particularly awesome. Great info you’ve provided, too;-)

  15. Lola says:

    Love you Phlox. Wish I could grow it here. I tried it in N.C. It grew well there. Guess it’s too hot here.

  16. I had lots of wild pholx in the garden as my old, old house along with lots of other wild things! I am afraid now my garden consists of many types of phlox blooming at different times but all cultivated with names. It is one of my favorite flowers and with some the fragrance is heavenly.


  17. Christina says:

    Well done post about the native phlox! I am sure you convinced some readers to try it out. I would love to have it in my garden, too, but in zone 10 I guess it won’t work. I enjoyed your post anyway! Very nice photography, too, Frances.

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