FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Phlox divaricata ‘May Breeze’ is a handsome compact cultivar of our native woodland phlox. Plants have semi-evergreen lance shaped deep green leaves. In early spring, foliage is topped by loose clusters of showy pale blue to whitish lavender flowers. ‘May Breeze’ is an ideal choice for shade gardens with moist well drained soil.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: The parent species Phlox divaricata occurs in eastern North America in Quebec and Ontario, south from Vermont to Florida and west to South Dakota and New Mexico. Plants are indigenous to rich deciduous woodlands, open moist to slightly dry woods, stream banks and open areas near woodland paths.
The ‘May Breeze’ cultivar was introduced from the Netherlands where it was selected by renowned garden designer Piet Oudolf. This variety is notable for its compact growth, intense fragrance and uniquely colored pale blue to almost white flowers.
Plants are hardy from USDA Zones 4-8.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Phlox divaricata ‘May Breeze’ is a mounding rhizomatous perennial with multiple green or purplish erect or decumbent stems.
Leaves are lance shaped with smooth edges and blunt or pointed tips. Blades are 1-2” long and ½” wide. They are rounded at the base and have no petioles. The leaf surface is peppered with short fine hairs.
The leaves are opposite - arranged in widely spaced pairs along the stems. Each pair of blades is situated at a right angle to those above and below.
The fertile stems terminate in showy rounded flower cymes. The florets are very fragrant with 5 pale violet overlapping petals. The lower part of the corolla is fused into a narrow tube.
Blooming occurs in early to mid-spring for about a month. Florets are followed by small inconspicuous oval capsules.
Plants grow 12-15” tall with an equal spread. They gradually form small colonies from short rhizomes and spreading leafy stems that root at the nodes.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Phlox divaricata ‘May Breeze’ flourishes in bright shade with moist rich well drained acid soil. Plants tolerate clay loam, sand, part sun and dry shade.
Plants are fairly pest resistant but need good air circulation to prevent issues with powdery mildew.
LANDSCAPE USES: This is a good Accent for a Shade Garden because the pale whitish blooms glisten in the filtered light. Plants are also used as Butterfly Nectar Plants or as part of a Groundcover, Grouping or Mass Planting. In mild climates attractive rosettes provide Winter Interest. Phlox divaricata ‘May Breeze’ offers Showy Blooms, Fragrance and is appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Low Maintenance Plantings and Perennial Borders.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing Phlox divaricata ‘May Breeze’ with Aquilegia canadensis, Carex albicans, Carex plantaginea, Heuchera americana 'Dales Strain', Dryopteris marginalis or Polystichum acrostichoides.
Phlox divaricata ‘Blue Moon’ is another compact woodland phlox selection that could be used as a substitute. The flower color of ‘Blue Moon’, however, is much darker - in the deep blue-violet range.
TRIVIA: Phlox divaricata flowers are a valuable early season nectar source for swallowtail butterflies, day flying sphinx moths (like hummingbird moths and clearwing moths) and hummingbirds. Successful pollinators must have a long proboscis to navigate the long slender corolla tube. The leaves and stems are somewhat unpalatable to deer but are often nibbled by rabbits.