White Phlox

David's White Garden Phlox


"From a windowbox
of Charlottenberg Palace a single petal of phlox
bears down into the shallow cup of its palm
with all the unbearable weight of a snowflake."

-Mario Petrucci,
Liberation of the Berlin Zoo,
1945

   

The fragrant, late-summer White Phlox shown on this page is Phlox paniculata 'David.' We never planted it; it was just in the garden, in an area that mostly doesn't get watering. I have divided it on three occasions & planted some of it on the roadside where it flowers way better in full sun in semi-drought conditions. It is in full bloom in August.

White PhloxOnce when I dug out & discarded a lot of Vinca minor some while back, I happened also to dig up a perennial's root clump that had died to the ground. I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was, & had a vague recollection it was a daisy I was not fond of. I half planned to put it behind the fence in an ungardened area where I had previously banished excess Feverfew. Instead, what I did with it was sit the uprooted clump under a cherry tree, waffling so much on whether to compost or replant it that I just sort of froze up & did nothing with it at all. The clump sat there on the surface of the ground for many weeks.

As spring progressed, that completely bared root clump, callously tossed under the cherry tree, sprang into a bushy presence, seemingly unconcerned about being exposed & dried out most of the time. I still wasn't sure what it was. When it was about a foot tall, all pleasantly green, I took pity on it, & since it was doing awfully well for something with the roots dry, I figured it would do nicely in the low-maintenance roadside garden which has over time become densely planted with sun-loving perennials. Only when it bloomed did I realize it was another 'David.' Even the neglect of failing to get it back in the ground for several weeks couldn't slow it down!

'David' was the 2002 Perennial Plant of the Year, an award given by the Perennial Plant Association for plants best for growers to mass produce. PPA's choices tend to be commonplace but reliably flowerful. David's White Phlox is one of their most sensible honorees, & if they ever start chosing so well every year, the award might someday become as meaningful for gardeners as for commercial growers.

The panicals of flowers are quite large, to six inches across, & long-lasting whether in the garden or as cut flowers. One of the drawbacks to phlox is a susceptibility to powdery mildew. 'David' is somewhat resistant & the clumps in our gardens have never exhibited this problem.

David was largely a forgotten variety until volunteer workers at the Brandywine Conservancy in Pennsylvania recognized its unique big full whiteness, & brought it to the attention of Mrs. F. M. Mooberry, Horticultural Coordinator at Brandywine, & whose name has got to be one of the coolest names of any bigwig gardener on earth. It was soon in cultivation as a selected variety. Mrs. Mooberry named it for her husband David, though I sort of wish she'd named it Mooberry I like that name so much.

It's thought probable that 'David' is directly descended from the very same Phlox which pioneer plant explorer John Bartram gathered, sending some of them to England in 1730. P. paniculata is a native wildflower found along the east coast of North America, & inland to Arkansas & Illinois. Thanks to John Bartram it has been a very long time in cultivation & the varieties are by now almost endless in number.

   



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