I have come to really love the whole world of Phlomis. So many great plants, especially for those of us who are drought-challenged on occasion, and, in my garden, there is a phlomis doing something all year round. I never set out to have so many, but I adore the shapes, the foliage, the flowers and the strong scent (which even I can smell) that the summer-flowering phlomis give off when the temperatures mount.
I have often blogged about Phlomis russeliana, so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice to say that the foliage can be a bit dog-eared in the winter if it is a wet one, but, if not, it holds up really well and the hairy leaves attract the frost quite beautifully.
Phlomis purpurea started blooming for me in February, carrying on in full flush until the end of April, and still flowering off and on even now. It may have regretted this, as February was a very wet month, and one of the plants is having a bit of a dieback right now. But my experience of this plant is that it does periodically take the hump, but, usually, there are newer shoots that remain alive and kicking, and so some judicious pruning will allow those to carry on. With me, growing in a hot and sunny position in poor soil, it reaches 1.25m high and wide. It is a very sculptural shape, making a big bowl of standing stems with the delicate colouring of the flowers as a bonus.
The plant that started it all off for me was given to me by Professor Katherine Worth, of Royal Holloway College in London way back in the mid80s when Andy taught there. She gave me the Phlomis variety that is probably the most commonly grown in the UK, Phlomis fruticosa. Against our garden fence in Surrey, it soon reached a massive 1.75m or so height and width, and made a very queenly statement in our first proper garden. It remains evergreen all through winter, and is a truly great shrub in my view, but does need space. I was forced to take action against ours last year, but really what I need to do is make that area a priority for next year, so that it gets the space it needs. Hence, it looks a bit straggly in the photograph.
I know I did have a Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’, but I can’t talk about that as it has disappeared from the scene. This has happened once before, so it may be telling me something. But a tall, slender Phlomis cousin is doing very well and producing lots of little ones that I am busily potting up. Phlomis ‘Samia’ is spectacular. Upright, statuesque spikes with paired heart-shaped leaves are then joined by pale lilac, almost dusty brown flowers in the classic Phlomis whorled shape. It takes a while to get going in my view, and absolutely prefers hot, sunny spots with poor soil, and no additional water than whatever turns up as rain. It really doesn’t need good soil and would risk getting too wet in the winter which would kill it. So I would recommend ignoring good soil requirements on many sites and in many books.
Olivier Filippi, the topclass nurseryman and author on dry gardening, produced a hybrid bred from longifolia and fruticosa stock, and it is a superb plant. Phlomis ‘Le Sud’ has a warmer yellow flower than fruticosa and more vivid green leaves with a hint of longifolia about them, and makes a mound just a bit more than a metre high and wide. It is as tough as old boots but much prettier. Very drought resistant, evergreen, undemanding.
And another phlomis that I fell over, and am also fond of, which is, I think, going to be a little smaller in habit than ‘Le Sud’ is Phlomis longifolia var. bailanica. It is often described as being only marginally hardy, but I would agree with Beth Smith of the Plant Heritage Devon Group. She describes it as being hardy to -15C. You can see her own photograph on the link which shows the longer, slimmer leaves better than mine.
If you would like a more exotic tint to your foliage, you could try this.
This tall phlomis, Phlomis x termesii, with a very upright habit, has wonderful golden-kissed felting on the young foliage, and longer, slimmer longifolia type leaves. I bought this from Olivier Filippi’s nursery three years ago and it gets better every year. Recently, from the new owners of La Petite Pepiniere, I bought my smallest Phlomis. Phlomis cretica is a tot by comparison with the others, and doesn’t look much right now, but I know it will come good to make a small shrublet of about 0.5m high and wide. It is a tiny star in the making.