On Gardening: Luminary tall garden phlox brings in bees, birds and butterflies | Leisure

Making its debut this year is Luminary Sunset Coral tall garden phlox. I grew it last year as part of Proven Winners’ garden writer trial program and fell madly in love with it. The color is electrifying in the garden — so thrilling in fact, that I just had to add more plants this year.

For whatever reason, last year I decided to plant them around a windmill palm in combination with Heart to Heart to Bottle Rocket caladiums and the chartreuse Royal Hawaiian Maui Gold elephant ears. There is simply no rhyme or reason to do such a combination, but I did and I loved it.

This year I added more of the phlox to the area and decided to try Heart to Heart Clowning Around as caladium partners along with the elephant ears and palm tree. The partnership was everything I dreamed. The coral colors in the caladium leaves matched perfectly.

Admittedly, caladiums aren’t your first consideration in a phlox partnership. In the front yard I combined Luminary Sunset Coral phlox with Rockin Playin the Blues salvia, Chestnut Gold Rising Sun rudbeckias, and Augusta Lavender heliotrope. I love the look, even though it is a little wildflower-like for the front entrance flower bed.

During my years as director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah, Georgia, I noticed constant butterfly activity around the tall garden phlox. With the advent of the Luminary series, I was anxious to see how they performed with regards to pollinators and resistance to powdery mildew.

I’m delighted to report that I have been growing Luminary Opalescence, Ultraviolet, Sunset Coral, and the new Prismatic Pink debuting in 2024, and there has not been a single leaf with powdery mildew. They are also spot-on with their reputation for attracting butterflies, particularly swallowtails.

So, my plan will be until further notice that if I am creating a pollinator habitat, there will be a place for at least one of the Luminary phlox varieties. That being said, I am now currently combining Luminary Ultraviolet phlox with reblooming hydrangeas, rudbeckias, Luscious lantanas, Mexican sunflowers and even SunPatiens.

Out of the five colors in the series, the white selection, Luminary Backlight, is just a little smaller in height and spread but by only a couple of inches. Luminary Prismatic Pink, which will be making its debut in 2024, is already extra-special to me for garden fragrance. You will love how its spicy sweet aroma permeates the air, welcoming you into their presence. It is definitely one for creating memories. The others are noted for fragrance, but this is the one my nose knows. Yes, Proven Winners describes the color as a “bubblegum” pink.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center calls these perennials “fall phlox,” but you probably grew up calling it summer phlox or tall garden phlox. They will bloom from early June until October. Remarkably, the Phlox paniculata is native to 36 states, but most of us have probably never seen one in the wild. The Luminary series no doubt is packed with native DNA, offering us carefree and easy-to-grow plants. The native habitat is described as rich open woods, thickets, meadows and moist roadsides. Fertile soil with plenty of sun is all that is required to give you the green thumb.

The tall garden phlox, one of our best perennials, is not a garden center staple, which is one of the mysteries of life. I urge you to simply keep your eyes open and buy them when you see them.

Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.

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