Safari in your garden with South African phlox

The past couple of years, The Garden Guy has fallen head over heels for a plant called Jamesbrittenia.

Microsoft just underlined it in red, pointing out two things.

One: This is going to be bothersome to me as I write this.

And two: If Microsoft doesn’t know it, you probably don’t either.

Proven Winners is out to change that with the new Safari series of Jamesbrittenia, or South African phlox.

Let’s chase some taxonomic rabbits.

Although it’s called “South African phlox,” it is not a phlox. You look at a photo of Jamesbrittenia grandiflora, and by George, it looks like a phlox.

It is, however, in the Scrophulariaceae, or figwort, family.

I had to ask Google, what in the world is a “figwort”? Sounds awful. Maybe figworts are those inhabitants of make-believe villages under mushrooms. (I am sure my Texas A&M taxonomy professor is rolling his eyes right now.)

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And where did “Jamesbrittenia” come from? I thought the great board of binomial nomenclature at some time said the inclusion of people’s names was not permissible.

I am joking, as Jamesbrittenia, named after the famed botanist James Britten, is certainly fine by me. I just want to help spread the word on the Safari series.

Proven Winners has introduced three Safari Jamesbrittenia or South African phlox: Safari Dawn, Safari Sky and next year’s new Safari Dusk.

When you see any of them in mixed baskets or containers, you immediately realize what a jewel they are as a component plant. Without the part they play, the design loses its effectiveness.

If you look up Jamesbrittenia online, you will see a boatload of species, including one called Jamesbrittenia jurassica. They are from places like South Africa, India, Egypt, Sudan and Bangladesh. Thus, the Safari series are hybrids. They are, however, award-winning hybrids at that.

Safari Dawn is called rose-colored with a soft yellow eye, but I say it reveals more colors than that.

Each in the series gets about 12 inches tall with a 24-inch spread. It is that spread that allows them to be such a dazzling component plant.

When Jamesbrittenia varieties not named Safari first showed up in trials, they were pretty, but they couldn’t take the heat of a long Southern summer.

Safari Dawn, on the other hand, is a multi-award winner, taking honors like Perfect Score in Oregon State and Top Performer at Oklahoma State and the University of Tennessee. That’s a nice spread geographically.

Everyone attending the Young’s Plant Farms 2022 Garden Tour in Auburn, Alabama, got their heart racing when they saw the mix showing Supertunia Royal Magenta petunia, Superbells Double Amber calibrachoa and Safari Dawn Jamesbrittenia. It was like a crown of rare jewels.

Young’s Plant Farm summer 2023 Garden Tour brought the house down again with another magical recipe. This one had Supertunia Royal Velvet petunia, Superbells Double Amber calibrachoa and Safari Sky Jamesbrittenia. I can imagine a gardener anywhere in the country swooning over this combination.

Safari Sky is also an award winner, showing versatility with its sky blue/purple color, a white center and a tiny orange eye. It too won Perfect Score at Oregon State and Top Performer at the University of Tennessee and Michigan State.

Next year’s addition, Safari Dusk, rounds out the perfect trifecta. It has shown The Garden Guy how beautiful the Jamesbrittenia can be as it reaches its 2-foot potential falling out of a basket.

That I am featuring it in mid-August is also a statement about its longevity in the South. The flowers are purple with a yellow to orange eye in the center of a tiny white halo. I have also been thrilled to see butterflies from swallowtails to tiny skippers hitting on it as well as bumblebees and metallic green sweat bees, too.

Jamesbrittenia varieties need sun to part sun and good drainage, like so many other plants. One thing you have to appreciate with mixed baskets and containers with a good potting soil: Drainage is hardly ever an issue.

They aren’t heavy feeders, either; I’ve been using a water-soluble mix every two to three weeks.

If I might quote a favorite Beach Boys tune, come on and safari with me — not surfing but gardening with the Safari Jamebrittenia, three knockout South African phlox. I promise your containers will be dazzling with a new floral design.

Follow Norman Winter on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.