For myriad problem spots in yard and garden, phlox has got you covered.
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Now for my very favorite phlox. I know I have many favorites, but this lady really is special. Miss Lingard is her name and she’s been around for some 80 years. The species is phlox carolina and it blooms earlier than the better-known phlox decussata or paniculata, all through June and July, and will bloom again if dead-headed, though not as tall the second time around. The giant, loose flower heads are somewhat tubular in shape and shining, luminous white in color. The plants grow into huge clumps—in three years you’ll have a 6-foot mass from just three plants. Interspersed with clumps of yellow evening primrose, let’s say, or blue delphiniums, it will give you a gorgeous garden picture. And—a welcome trait—Miss Lingard doesn’t get mildew as readily as her paniculata relations.
“It is a sad moment when the first phlox appears,” Vita Sackville-West wrote about phlox paniculata in one of her famous columns in the British Observer. “It is the amber light indicating the end of the great burst of early summer and suggesting that we must now start looking forward to autumn. . . . The herbaceous phlox will do much to comfort us in the late summer and early autumn months. It does give a sumptuous glowing show, especially if you can plant it in a half-shady bed where its colors will curiously change with the sinking sun and will deepen with twilight into colors you never thought it possessed. . . . I feel sure this is the way to grow phlox: in a cool, north-aspect border, all to themselves, not mixed up with other things in a hot sunny border.”
Vita Sackville-West was, of course, the creator of one of the world’s greatest and most beautiful gardens—at Sigginghurst in Kent—and a weekly columnist in the Observer for 14 years. Her gardening columns were witty and wise, poetic and practical. She never talked down to amateurs—she started as one—so her words are both an inspiration and a comfort to trial-and-error dirt gardeners like thee and me.
Still, I’m not in complete accord with her observations on phlox paniculata. These remarks were made in a column she wrote in July, and maybe the light already does bespeak fall in England. But it doesn’t happen for me till one of those crisp crystal days in mid-August, when autumn stretches out a chill warning finger Also, I’m not as sure as she that phlox should always be grown alone, although a big clump, by itself, is as striking as a flowering shrub and makes a fine specimen grouping—provided you use three of the same color. But they’re also beautiful in the mixed border, superb in combination with coneflowers, Malva fastigiata, blue balloon flowers, lilies, even daylilies.