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Get Growing: Don’t fear garden phlox

It’s been a splendid year for summer-blooming garden phlox. Everywhere I go, from my own backyard to public gardens, I see towering specimens.

Of course, it would have been wise if I and other gardeners had pinched back the plants in early June so they weren’t so tall now. Maybe next year I’ll remember.

Many people avoid summer phlox because it can be prone to disfiguring powdery mildew. However, that ugly problem hasn’t been prevalent this year, in my experience. It does help that most of my phlox plants are the ‘David’ variety, which is resistant to the nasty disease. But even the self-sown magenta seedlings don’t show signs of the mildew.

There are many hybrids in a variety of colors from white to pink to red and lavender-blue. I’m not especially fond of pink, but there is a rather pretty seedling in one of my gardens I haven’t torn out. On the other hand, I’m being ruthless about those magenta ones.

One unexpected delight is self-sown white seedlings. A few years ago a sport of the beautiful white ‘David’ developed in my backyard garden with lovely white flowers with a hint of lavender in their pedicels. I transplanted some to another area of the garden where it continues to thrive. This year some new seedlings appeared, all of them white. There are half a dozen in that garden and some in another garden I suspect are seedlings rather than the original ‘David’.

Many touted garden phlox are pink, so I haven’t looked for new varieties in quite some time. However, I am intrigued by a relatively new cultivar ‘Lord Clayton’ introduced in 2009 by Plants Nouveau. It has burgundy foliage, which would be attractive even before the deep cherry-red flowers bloom in the summer. It is medium height at 24 to 30 inches. There are also many new cultivars that are quite short — only 18 inches high — so they will look beautiful in the front of the border. Some newer varieties you might seek are: ‘Blue Paradise’ with varying shades of blue, ‘Blushing Shortwood’ a short, pink and white striped variety, and ‘Tequila Sunrise’ another short cultivar in intriguing salmon-orange with a red eye. For a comparison of phlox varieties by Richard Hawke of the Chicago Botanic Garden go to the garden’s website.

Fall is a good time to divide or plant phlox and local nurseries have a nice selection right now.

PERMACULTURE LECTURE: Geoff Lawton, an internationally-known permaculture designer, will speak at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Campus Center Room 165-9. Lawson has worked extensively in the Middle East in Jordan, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. His free lecture is sponsored by a group of local permaculture organizations.

PLANT SWAPS: Both area plant swaps meet this week. Tuesday is the Belchertown swap at the home of Elaine Williamson, 253 Warren Wright Rd. The group meets at 6 p.m. for a $1 fee. Call 253-5041 for more information. Bette Sokoloski’s South Deerfield swap, called BJ’s Flower Swappers, meets Wednesday at 6 p.m. with a $2 fee at 2 Hobbie Rd. This group has been meeting for 15 years. The final swap of the season in South Deerfield will include a potluck supper. Call 665-4039 for details. Both groups welcome newcomers.

TOWER HILL BOTANIC GARDEN: There are two great events at Tower Hill in Boylston on Sept. 7. Admission is free to the annual Gardener’s Emporium from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be displays and sales by the local chapters of the national hosta, daylily and lily societies as well as sales and information on epimediums and peonies as well as plants in general by several commercial nurseries. At 2 p.m., Bill Cullina, director of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, will give a lecture called “Great Native for the Northeast.” The fee for the lecture, reception and garden tour is $40 for non-members while the lecture alone is $30.

BERKSHIRE BOTANICAL GARDEN: A three-part series of study groups called “Passion for Plants” will be held Wednesday mornings in September at Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. Minor bulbs are the topic for Sept. 11, from 10 a.m. to noon. Ornamental grasses will hold sway on Sept. 18, and woody plants will be discussed on Sept. 25. Fee for the entire series is $70 or $25 for a single session. Call 298-3926 to register.

MASS BOTANIC GARDENS: Our state has some of the most beautiful botanic gardens in America. Now, many of them have banded together to create a trail map to encourage locals and tourists to visit such places as the Arnold Arboretum, Berkshire Botanical Garden, Tower Hill, Elm Bank — and the Smith College Botanic Garden in Northampton. They also have a new website, massbotanicgardens.org Members include: Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha’s Vineyard where Hadley native Tom Clark works; Heritage Plantation in Sandwich on Cape Cod, home of the Dexter rhododendrons; Elm Bank in Wellesley, home base for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society; the Wellesley College Botanic Gardens; Garden in the Woods in Framingham, a fantastic wildflower garden and headquarters of the New England Wild Flower Society; and Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. Promise yourself to visit all of them over the next few years. I’ve been to most of them, but have yet to venture to Mount Auburn, Polly Hill and Heritage Plantation — goals for 2014.

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