Seeing Red


by Guest Ranter Barbara Pintozzi of Mr. McGregor's Daughter


All I wanted was a ruby or crimson
colored, mildew-resistant Phlox to match my 'Black Beauty' Lilies and Lobelia
'Sparkle DeVine' to and harmonize with Lobelia 'Monet Moment.'  Now, I know that
the natural color of Phlox paniculata is magenta, but there seemed to be a lot
of Phloxes described as "red" on the market.  I looked at photos of Phloxes on
the internet, but it truly is impossible to determine a color without seeing it
in person.  How hard could it be to find the right one?  Three months and four
Phloxes later, I still don't have The One.

Back in May, I visited a large
nursery in Wisconsin, which had a vast selection of Phloxes.  As the usual bloom
season for Phlox paniculata around here is summer, none were in bloom, so I took
a leap of faith and purchased two "red" Phloxes, 'Starfire' and 'Red Magic.' 
Patiently, I waited for buds to form, then blooms to finally open, only to
discover that neither one was "red." Both were dark magenta instead. So I
started cruising the local nurseries, where I found a Phlox that was actually
"red," 'Red Riding Hood.'  On bringing it home, I discovered that it is the
wrong red, too bright and slightly orange to match the Lilies. 

Recently, I had a free day, so I
took a drive to my favorite suburban nursery to purchase Phlox 'Grenadine
Dream.'  I had such a good feeling that this would be the perfect color.  Of
course, it was sold out and there weren't any in the display beds.

Finally, last week at Midwest
Groundcovers, I asked whether they grew any "ruby" colored Phloxes. The closest,
I was told, was 'Volcano Red.'  It sounded promising, so I went to the plant in
the display bed and clipped off a bloom, brought it home, and discovered that it
was, unsurprisingly, red-violet, not ruby, not crimson, not red.

Has anyone seen a crimson or ruby
colored Phlox?  Is there such a thing?  Is "red" in the eye of the beholder? 
Maybe I should just plant some Phlox 'David'  there instead, or should I wait
for Terra Nova to come up with one?


  1. It has been my experience that all phlox will turn magenta eventually either thru self seeding or the expensive nifty color ones dying out. I have embraced the magenta by convincing myself it is a “neutral” color that goes with everything.

  2. “Red” here seems like that weasel word “chocolatey” — as in “enrobed in a rich, chocolatey coating” — meaning vaguely resembling chocolate, without containing any actual chocolate ingredients. In the phlox department, I’ve found the same applies to “blue.”

  3. Red? I’ve solved the problem of trying to find the perfect red phlox or any red flower.. I just don’t have red flowers in my garden!

    But I do agree, color matching flowers, regardless of color, is hard to do, and the names the varieties are given are often mis-leading!

  4. I have seldom looked for red bloomers as I only like them for about two weeks in December. But I have found the same problem with pink that is often actually salmon or peach. I suppose the thrill of the hunt keeps us going!

  5. Red is difficult. It reminds me of my Julia Correvon clematis and my red roses. Both are red. Boy, do they clash. I wish you well in your quest and will keep an eye out.

  6. I’m sick of catalogues that promise a true red. It always turns out to be red-with-a-touch-of-orange or red-with-a-touch-of-pink. Getting true red in anything is very difficult! Consequently I am always buying new things for my red border in the hope it will be fire engine red!

  7. I’m not a big fan of red in the garden, so I’ve never gone looking specifically for red. But the problem with color descriptions of plants seems to hold true for other colors as well. When I first dipped my toe into the world of gardening, I set out to find blue plants to complement my blue “Endless Summer” hydrangeas. I soon found that “blue” on the tag usually turned out to be lavender or purple. And, of course, my “Endless Summers” are now pink…

  8. The possible flower color in a particular species (like phlox) is simply limited by the pigments that plant produces, along with factors like requirements for cellular pH in the parts of the cell where the pigment is localized.
    Take home message: A truly RED phlox may be impossible unless we’re very lucky and phlox mutates a new pigment type (as roses did years ago) or someone genetically engineers it (as they have carnations).

  9. Sorry, can’t help you. I have Starfire and Volcano Red but you’ve tried them. I had a similar problem trying to match the ‘pink’ in Siloam Double Classic daylily. Never did get it right.

  10. Thanks for all the input, everyone. Don’t even get me started on so-called “blue” flowers, that’s a rant in itself. I so agree about catalogue descriptions of color – definitely buyer beware. And as a gardener (read: optimist) I am hoping for that genetic mutation. I would even buy one that was genetically engineered.

  11. Hi MMD, so nice to see you here! If you really want a perfect red, forget the phlox and go for the amazing annual Penta. That is the truest red I have ever seen, the hummers love it and it goes well with every other color. Even magenta species Phlox paniculata.

  12. Ruby penstemmons, ruby phygellius, red blood grass, and scarlet monarda’s come in those colors.
    White flowers look good like David Phlox but not in late summer with crimson. Better with blues and grays or pink.

  13. This is how I feel about daylilies being described as pink. Most of them are some shade of apricot, peach or coral. True pink they are not. At least not to my eyes!

  14. Old Kim – I know, I need to get off my Phlox obsession and try something else. I’m not a big fan of white flowers, and I don’t really like Phlox ‘David.’ It’s just that I already have it.

    Cindy – Amen, sister! Peachy Daylilies clash horribly with most everything in my garden. I’ve given away so many “pink” ones that weren’t really pink.

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