Book Bullet: Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs by Michael A. Dirr
Book Bullet: Wedding Roses by David Austin Roses

A very unpredictable phlox

Assessing the trial of Phlox at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley, just south of London, back in the summer I was struck by a few things: the colour, the fragrance, how gorgeous some are (‘Blue Paradise’), how ugly a few are (‘Sherbet Cocktail’) – and the wild unpredictability of ‘Peppermint Twist’.

The trial is confined to varieties of Phlox maculata, P. paniculata and P. x arendsii, one hundred and thirty five of them, from a wide variety of sources but ‘Peppermint Twist’ stood out - for the right and the wrong reasons. The problem is that you get three plants in one.

The true ‘Peppermint Twist’ is a dramatic plant, each petal is pink in the centre and white at the edges creating the impression of pink flower with a white star. It’s colorful, it’s dramatic – but who knows how long your plant will stay that way?

‘Peppermint Twist’ is a sport of the pink-flowered ‘Candy Cane’ found on Jan Verschoor’s Dutch nursery back in 2001 (by Marc Laviana, President of Sunny Border Nurseries). The problem is that most plants revert to that pink ‘Candy Cane’ original after a year or two so you end up with both colors on one plant. Then, less often, it also reverts to the other colour in its flower – pure white. So you get three different flower colors on one plant!

Now, first thing: The true ‘Peppermint Twist’ is an amazing colour combination, a lovely plant. Secondly: If I want a bicolored phlox then I’m not happy about getting a plain pink one mixed in. And how did it get a plant patent if it’s so unstable? Thirdly: Why not grow the very similar Phlox maculata ‘Natascha’ instead? I’ve never seen it revert, and it never gets mildew either.

Finally, this is exactly what plant trials are for – whether at the RHS at the Chicago Botanic Garden or anywhere else; not only to reveal the best varieties, but also to reveal which varieties have problems.