Flower Gardening

Garden Phlox Is a Great Starter Plant

By Jean Starr


Garden Phlox is a great starter plant — one of the easiest for any level of expertise. Another advantage, it puts up with the heat and even a bit of the drought so commonly found in August. With plenty of food and water, it can even thrive in part shade.

In this article Jean Starr offers advice about growing healthy Phlox. She also provides information about the latest varieties, particularly those that are disease resistant.

My grandma called these plants ‘Flux’. She loved them for their fragrance and easy culture. Much later I learned that the correct pronunciation for this old-fashioned, fragrant flower is FLOX, spelled Phlox. It’s one of the easiest names to remember in a world of multisyllabic, scientifically correct plant names.

Grandma expected enthusiasm from me over these late summer, sweet honey smelling flowers. She noted that I loved to breathe in the scent of the peonies she grew, so knew we shared an appreciation of a well-perfumed flowers. But somehow I was not impressed with the spindly stems and washed-out purple florets of her Phlox.

Fast forward 25 years to when I moved into my first house with a yard. I planted tulips, lilies, clematis, cone flowers, peonies, dahlias, and much more in the 15 years I lived there. Not once did I plant Phlox.

Cover Photo by Jean Starr: Phlox ‘Shockwave’ is all about the leaves.

How I Started Growing Phlox

Perhaps I remembered Phlox as a plant with no presence. It was so easy to grow, my Grandma let it cultivate itself on the strip of ground between the sidewalk and the street. On a really hot day, it looked like a patch of weeds. Grandma probably started out with a cultivated variety but let it go to seed, resulting in a mixed bag of colors with varying vigor and an almost guaranteed case of late season mildew.

Eventually I learned it didn’t have to be that way. I collected varieties with beautiful substance and that characteristically honeyed fragrance. The first was Phlox ‘Sandringham’, which is named for Queen Elizabeth’s country estate. It’s doubtful that my local nursery carried this rare variety. ‘Sandringham’ looks very similar to a more common variety called ‘Bright Eyes’. That’s more likely what I grew.

After finally bringing ‘Sandringham / Bright Eyes’ into my garden, I grew a series of varieties named for people, including ‘Laura’, ‘David’, ‘David’s Lavender’, and ‘Norah Leigh’, a plant with variegated leaves. Each year I added more varieties. After all, who can resist a plant called ‘Blushing Shortwood’? Or ‘Maiden America’?

Phlox Blushing Shortwood

Phlox ‘Blushing Shortwood’ photo by Jean Starr

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