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Cornucopia - Phlox paniculata 'Becky Towe'

Phlox Paniculata 'Becky Towe'
Jennifer Harmer

As many of my friends know I do not like variegated phlox. The only two which I consider in anyway tolerable are P.p. 'Norah Leigh' and 'Silvermine'. The first is a robust and long-lived plant with white and lilac flowers, which I normally cut off, but it does have the obliging habit of leaving reverted shoots if moved. A reverted P.p. 'Norah Leigh' is lovely and well worth growing! P.p. 'Silvermine' has always been very difficult to get hold of - if any members are growing it and it is healthy please propagate it (only from tip cuttings). It has plain white flowers and is an elegant variegated plant.

I know many of you disagree with me over my aversion and there is at least one member who only grows variegated phlox; however, this brings me to the best of the rest of the tribe, P.p. 'Becky Towe'. Again, my friends know that over the years I have been collecting photos and stories on the origins of plants. I have, for some reason, never written up Mrs Towe and her phlox. Long standing HPS members will remember her well; she was a passionate, plant loving HPS member who rarely missed a national event. I knew her as, on occasion, she would sit next to me on the bus and proceed to lecture me on some matter or other for the rest of the day, but she was a knowledgeable travelling companion. I well remember her telling me about a cream variegated sport she had found from P.p. 'Windsor' and that she wanted to introduce it to commerce as she thought it was such a good plant. She described it to me and I tried to be polite and said I was sure it would be successful.

Eventually, I saw that her plant had been introduced as P.p. 'Becky Towe', named after her flat-coated retriever. At that time, Mike Tristram described it as having “broad golden leaf edges which pale to buttery-cream at flowering time. And for extra, the golden spring foliage is often handsomely accented by a bronze overlay colouring on the tops of the young shoots. The flowers are a delicious salmony carmine rose with a darker magenta eye which are sweetly scented”.

However whenever I saw P.p. 'Becky Towe' growing, despite Mrs Towe’s assertions to the contrary and Mike’s glowing testimonial, I thought it was a very weedy plant.

The next time I met up with Mrs T, just after I had written the HPS Phlox booklet, she bore down on me waving both her fists and walking stick in a most ferocious manner. “What do you mean” she said “saying that P.p. 'Pink Poise' is a more robust plant than P.p. 'Becky Towe'? That is absolute rubbish; you do not know what you are talking about!” I tried to pour oil on troubled waters by saying that I was writing from own my experience. It didn’t work and she never spoke to me again and just waved her fist dismissively in my direction whenever our paths crossed.

Sadly, she died some years ago and I thought that was the end of the story, but I was wrong. You don’t get the better of the Mrs Towes of this world. For the last three years, I have been involved in the RHS Phlox trials at Wisley. Even I have to admit that P.p. ‘Becky Towe’ has been superb and I am sure it will get an award. [It did – Ed.] Bob Brown submitted the plants and loves it as does Fergus Garrett. Although I won’t be growing it due to lack of space (that’s my story and I am sticking to it!), I do feel I should heartily recommend it to VPG Members as you really couldn’t get a better variegated phlox, but do try and get it from Bob as his stock is from Mrs Towe’s original plant.

As I write this, on the only summer-like day of the Christmas holiday, and dream of phlox, I can see Mrs T smiling above me and hear a whisper in my ear “I told you so!!”.

First published in the Variegated Plant Group Newsletter Spring 2014
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 35.
© Copyright for this article: Jennifer Harmer

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2015. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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