Photographs by Sabina Rüber
Phlox has been grown in Europe since the 17th century, when the perennial Phlox paniculata was brought over from the American colonies. The family includes some sixty species, but here I'm talking about just one species, the annual Phlox drumondii from Texas, which is the quickest to flower from seed. It's an excellent summer-flowerer for a pot or container, producing generous clusters of round-petalled flowers. Popular as swift-growing bedding plants, they are subject to the breeders’ tendency to favour the brightest, brashest colours – but don’t let this put you off. If you pick your way carefully through what is available, you’ll find seed strains that are more subtle and beautiful.
For the past couple of years I've been growing ‘Crème Brulée’, which has pale coffee-and-cream flowers with darker stars in the centre of each bloom. With different colour-tones in each flower, it picks up other colours both in the border or in a flower arrangement, and makes an excellent cut flower. Its rather loose, rangy habit puts some people off, but I love the way it weaves in and around everything else, and although it often takes a while to get going, it can flower on and on until the first frosts as long as you keep dead heading. ‘Cherry Caramel’ is similar, with caramel flowers and a more prominent rosy-pink centre, while 'Blushing Bride' is a very pretty and simple combination of white and pale pink.
Sow seeds in mid-spring under cover in a modular seed tray with several seeds to a module. Germinate at 18-20C and grow on in a greenhouse or coldframe. Harden off as they get bigger and plant out in early summer, giving them sun or partial shade, and a fertile, moist but well-drained soil. Don’t let the plants dry out if the weather is hot and sunny.