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On Gardening: Luminary Sunset Coral phlox will have you mesmerized

Norman Winter, Tribune News Service on

Published in Gardening News

Sitting on my driveway right now are three Luminary Sunset Coral tall garden phlox, Phlox paniculata. Just saying that color makes me expect a bolt of lightning to strike, and a mysterious voice to say it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. This variety, still new to most everyone, is so beautiful in color and defies description.

There was a time this color might have been called lipstick, but as I walk by my plants waiting to be planted it’s the one that takes my breath away. Now hold on to your hat, I’ve already got several. I just want more and more. I was deliriously happy last year with my bed under my dining room window when the front yard turned into Yellowstone. Even the plants the "baddest" deer won’t eat were decimated, my phlox included. Fenced backyard was no problem.

The phlox we know as garden phlox, tall garden phlox and summer phlox is called fall phlox by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It is native over the eastern United States and cold hardy from zones 3-8. It did well for us at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah, Georgia, so that tells me this phlox can push zone 9 too!

Luminary Sunset Coral is one of six colors, offering tantalizing fragrance and the ability to bring in pollinators. So, cottage gardens, perennial gardens and backyard habitats are all in the realm of possibilities. In the south they will push 32-inches tall with an equal spread. They usually bloom from the end of May through August for me. I know if I did a better job deadheading, feeding and watering, I would, as Lady Birds says, make them a fall phlox.

So, for the past three years I have been doing the unconventional when it comes to the garden phlox. First, I combine them with Heart to Heart, Bottle Rocket caladium and Royal Hawaiian Maui Gold elephant ear. These were all clustered around a windmill palm. The colors in the Bottle Rocket really echoed the Luminary Sunset Coral phlox.

Last year, I modified that planting by adding Surefire Cherry Cordial begonias and Heart to Heart Clowning Around caladium with the elephant ear. Again, it was beautiful and incredibly colorful. Out in the main part of the garden I have them in close proximity to Pyromania Blaze red hot poker and salvias.

The bed eaten by deer had Rising Sun Chestnut Gold rudbeckias, and Rockin Playin' the Blues salvias and a climbing rose inside a metal tower. For what its worth the salvias remained. The deer ate the sweet potatoes on the steps in the self-watering AquaPots. For fall I planted Cardoon, deer do not eat that, WRONG!


For later in the summer I’ll tell you my new attempts at controlling the menu at the "Bambi Cafe." Back to the windmill palm and the tropical look for the Luminary Sunset Coral. I have planted three Graceful Grasses Prince Tut papyrus in a triangular cluster around the palm. I am moving the elephant ears and bringing in some new colorful cordyline or Hawaiian Ti and dwarf lime green coleuses. This planting is right outside a large garden bath with a huge window so it should be a feel of the islands.

Hopefully you’ve got the idea how much I love Luminary Sunset Coral phlox. Finding perennial garden phlox on the other hand has never been easy, even when it’s been the perennial of the year. So, start sourcing your plants plus any exciting other colors you might want. This year is looking so for we gardeners!


(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.)

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Norman Winter receives complimentary plants to review from the companies he covers.)

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