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May 2017

June 2017

New ways with phlox

PhloxEarlibeautyZenithDaughterofPearl
The tall and colorful American native summer phlox, Phlox paniculata, has been popular for more than a hundred years. In 1917 five hundred and eighty four (yes, 584) different varieties were grown in the USA and in 1907 one Scottish nursery alone listed well over three hundred varieties. In Britain, the Royal Horticultural Society currently has a grand total of 577 in its database.

Most of these have now vanished, but there are a number of impressive breeding programmes, many using other species in addition to P. paniculata, going on in both North America and in Europe. Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens in Michigan, with his Opening Act and Fashionably Early series, and Charles Oliver at The Primrose Path in Pennsylvania, with his Earlibeauty Series (above), are leading the way along with Gosen Bartels in The Netherlands with his Flame Series.

But some of the best known varieties of the summer phlox have arisen in another way – they’ve been spotted in the wild or in abandoned gardens by plants people with a good eye, and an appreciation of something special.

I’ve mentioned these in my article about phlox in the current issue of The American Gardener but space was tight so I thought you’d be interested in a little more detail. These were all chosen for their freedom from mildew, but it’s important to remember that mildew resistance is not constant. I’ve seen ‘David’, and ‘David’s Lavender’, completely ruined by mildew.

‘Common Purple’ Found in 1982 by Marc Richardson and Richard Berry, founders of Goodness Grows Nursery, at an old abandoned homesite in Greene County, Georgia. The plant was in full bloom, with no sign of disease or problems. It was introduced by Goodness Grows in 1984.

PhloxSpeedLimit45‘David’ Selected at the Brandywine Conservancy, Chadds Ford, PAennsylvania by nurseryman Richard Simon and the Conservancy’s Horticulture Coordinator Mrs. F. M. Mooberry for its unusually large white flower heads and freedom from mildew. ‘David’s Lavender’ is a sport discovered in 2002 by Kathryn Litton at ItSaul Plants, Georgia.

‘Jeana’ Found in the 1990s by Jeana Prewitt of Nashville, Tennessee, growing mildew-free among "many thousands" of mildew-covered wild plants. Introduced in 2001 by the much missed Seneca Hill Perennials.

‘Speed Limit 45’ Spotted by Pierre Brunnerup, in the company of Allen Bush, by the sign on the roadside near Bush’s nursery in North Carolina and seen to be mildew free. Propagated by Bush and introduced in 2003.

These are exciting time for phlox enthusiasts, with so many new introductions. Those such as the Earlibeauty Series, with no P. paniculata in their background, seem best placed to remain mildew-resistant in the long term.

* Thank you to Charles Oliver and Allen Bush for the pictures.


Chocolate cosmos alive and well in Mexico, not extinct!

Chocolate cosmos growing in the wild in Mexico. © Universidad de Guadalajara

Since the chocolate cosmos, Cosmos atrosanguineus, began to be widely grown in the 1980s we’ve all assumed two things: that it was extinct the wild and that there was only one clone grown which never set any seed. Well, that’s what the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and others told us. They even participated in a plan to reintroduce it to the wild. It was all part of the mystique attached to this captivating chocolate-coloured and chocolate-scented plant.

Now, it turns out, Chocolate cosmos has been growing happily in Mexico all this time, and in a number of different locations. So it has no need of re-introduction. And, in New Zealand, chocolate cosmos has been grown from seed since 1990.

Mexican botanist Dr Aarón Rodríguez and his team found eleven relatively recent records of C. atrosanguineus, the earliest of which was from 1986, and the locations mentioned in the records led them out to find the plant in the wild. Dr Rodríguez told me: “The populations are quite numerous. Plants grow in mixed pine and oak forest.” They were found in three different Mexican counties.

From around the same time Dr Russell Poulter, a geneticist in New Zealand, has been raising plants from seed and working to ensure that the plants resembled the original wild form.

Dr Poulter’s work is the origin of the seed raised varieties now available, ‘Black Magic’ from Jelitto Perennial Seeds, and an unnamed form from Plant World Seeds. At least one more is on the way. His plants have also led to the introduction of new cuttings raised varieties including Dark Secret (‘3013/01’), Eclipse ('Hamcoec') and Spellbound (‘Hamcosp’).

It’s a little baffling that these two fundamental facts have slipped us by all these years. But it’s great news that this lovely plant remains established in the wild and that new introductions are being developed from seed-raised plants.

* Find out more in the June issue of the Royal Horticultural Society magazine The Plantsman, where I describe the horticultural history of the chocolate cosmos from its introduction to Britain in 1861 to the confirmation of its status in the wild and recent development of new cultivars, including those raised from seed. Please subscribe here.
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