December 2, 2008

Flummoxed by Phlox

This may be another case of mistaken plant identity. There are magenta-colored garden phlox volunteers popping up in my garden. The color and size matches the phlox paniculata labeled 'Robert Poore' that I purchased three years ago. However, the information that I've found from my research source states that this phlox is sterile. But wait-- there is contradictory information on the same page stating that this phlox self-sows seeds if not dead-headed.

The original phlox grouping is next to my stone chimney, tucked behind a semi-circle of Indian Hawthorne, safely within the cottage garden fence (away from deer). The original three plants spread quickly to fill the area. I have another variety of phlox, a tall, salmon pink variety that fortunately hasn't self-sown. I actually prefer the 'Robert Poore' magenta color.

A magenta phlox showed up beside the tall salmon pink which is not a particularly good color combination. The phlox roots are buried beneath a giant mass of creeping perennial heliotrope, so this awkward pairing will remain until next summer when I can once again identify the plants by the bloom colors. Another volunteer showed up outside the cottage garden fence, so I decided to transplant it between a grouping of coneflowers, rosemary and sage to see if the deer would find it. This little phlox survived unnoticed until late August when some critter decided to take a nibble. Since I needed the magenta phlox in another location, I moved the little volunteer inside the fence.

There are times when Mother Nature creates improved designs. Another alleged 'Robert Poore' volunteer popped up between the Encore® Azaleas and heuchera 'Purple Palace.' That's not all. The seeds from a purple Wave® Petunia sprouted in front of the purple heuchera. This little combination is so appealing that I have moved more phlox 'Robert Poore' seedlings to this area for a mass planting.

In case you are interested in phlox 'Robert Poore' for your garden, it is rated for zones 2b-11. Isn't that just about the entire world? I've found another source that says 'Robert Poore' grows in zones 4-8. The height of my phlox is around 2-3+ feet and it doesn't flop over on the ground. The phlox began blooming in late June and a few blooms were still going until the mid-November frost here in zone 7b. Powdery mildew wasn't a problem until late October. Since 'Robert Poore' is supposed to provide better mildew resistance, this is another confusing point on the correct identification.

I have collected and planted seeds of this phlox in the garden. If these seeds germinate, sprout and then bloom as magenta phlox, then I will be a happy gardener -- whatever the real source, whatever the real name of this phlox! If I have no phlox seedlings next summer, then I'm heading out to purchase phlox paniculata 'Robert Poore' for sure.

Story and photos by Freda Cameron

Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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