Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers
Wild Blue Phlox
by Dorothy J. Pellett
Blossoms can vary in color from blue through pinks to pure white.
The scented flowers of wild blue phlox (P. divaricata) are the strands from which some of my earliest memories are woven and renewed. Not sweet like fragrant lilies, and not spicy like clove-scented pinks, the phlox's pleasant, mild perfume is part of a spring walk in the woods in many areas of the country. The scent was familiar to me when, as a child, I collected flowers for May baskets. The place was a perfect setting for colonies of this phlox to flourish, along a small stream under a high, but not dense, canopy of deciduous trees where the sun filtered down through the branches.
Close contact with the flowers -- and a child's inclination to bury her nose in any bunch of blooms -- firmly affixed the scent in my memory. Today, wafted on the breeze, it is a welcome part of spring gardening in my area of Vermont. Continuity with past pleasures is only one of many reasons for planting P. divaricata in the garden, however.
Clusters of delicate 3/4- to 1-inch flowers come in violet-blue to white shades. Even within one colony, shades vary from deep to pale. Smaller than the tall summer phlox (P. maculata and P. paniculata), yet taller than the creeping species (P. stolonifera and P. subulata), wild blue phlox has slim, leafy stems to about 1 foot tall. It grows well in moist, partly shady locations of USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 7, though not in hot and humid locations. Northern strains of P. divaricata (those that are native to zones 5 or colder) are easily grown where temperatures reach -40°F. and colder, if they are nestled between rocks or trees that mitigate the ferocity of winter winds.
Depending on where you live, you may know P. divaricata as wild blue phlox, woodland phlox, or timber phlox. Because the branched clusters of flowers remind some observers of sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), this phlox has another common name: wild sweet William. That branching form, in fact, was the basis for its species name, divaricata, from the Latin for "divergent" or "spreading."