Falling Out Of Love With Phormiums


Phormiums were all the rage a decade or so ago.  The garden-stylistas have moved on, though they still seem to find room for a phormium here and there.  I'm falling out of love with them for one reason, and one reason alone:  severe mealybug infestations.  I can deal with them reverting to the species, which they often seem to do, because the species are quite beautiful in themselves, but mealybugs must be attended to via systemic pesticide or regular, intensive blasts of alcohol-tainted water.  

Why we loved them in the first place:


Still, I hope to always have a Phormium or two around.  But the all-agog-ness, the I-want-I-want, is mostly over.  

We gardeners are somewhat fickle, are we not?  Familiarity breeds lament  As gardeners go, there are the lifers, those devoted almost exclusively to a particular genus, who have grown members of that genus for decades.  They end up writing the definitive genera book. Others of us reach for, or are carried along by the trend of the moment.  Phormiums for a while, then the ornamental grass enthusiasm, the native plant trend, the succulents, nowadays it's mixing in edibles with ornamentals.  (I've never seen so much black Kale in my life, does anyone actually eat that stuff?)   The rest of us are somewhere between the genera-devoted and the stylista--a genus or two or three, maybe for a decade or so, and then another, with a touch of the popular rotating in and out. 

Some plants never seem to make it as a full-fledged fashion.  Climate limitations?  Finicky?

Fashion in the garden.  Yes, it's there.  As the garden is the gardener, so gradually do plants fade away where once they lived in every yard on every street.  Hollywood Junipers--used to see them everywhere.  Now they hang on just where the original gardener still lives, or where no one cares at all what is green and growing outside.  

Phormiums seem to be fading from view, the victims of Mealybugs, and fashion. 
Nothing does that oiled bronze color like a Phormium:

Surely in a few decades there will be a lone surviving Phormium somewhere, and a young gardener designer will look at it and think:  "Wow!  I could use that!"  And suddenly Phormiums will be back on every street, captivating the gardening heart again.  At least until the mealybugs get them, or the ornamental native succulent grass craze commences. 



  1. Great pics, but no white dog this time, I see!

    Agreed on the unique bronze of Phormium, as well as how overused they are...esp at the expense of other native species that could add local flavor to So Cal.

    Stylistas were using a terrible tree all the time when I moved from San Diego, Lombardy Poplar. Such shallow people, for the most part.

    "Wouldn't it be nice" to see some locally-native Nolina spp., etc used well in place of Phormium?

  2. Catching up on reading your blog. So sorry to hear about the crash. My graptopetalum superbum looked like yours long ago but now looks more like a poodle. So true about phormiums. My Alison Black grows nearly xeric in the gravel garden. I haven't checked the fans for mealy bugs but she looks happy. One phase I never went through is daylilies. Please, let me never become daylily infatuated. I'm heading up the coast for a few days, maybe as far as Digging Dog, so will check in next week.

  3. Agreed. Currently I'm into the ornamental grass scene. And a few succulents too. Phorium isn't hardy here. You know when somethings a fad when Wallyworld sells it. Anything to make a buck.
    With the heat and drought this year, I'm thinking of going back to the Yucca (late 60's fad). I remember when vendors used to sell them out of the back of a pick up truck, dug up from the wild in west texas.

  4. Uhm...I'm still wishing I could grow a few nice big clumps in the front garden. Granted I may have been a little excessive with my 17 (!!!) prior to our big Phormium meltdown (nasty winter) but I'd be happy now with 2, or maybe 3.

    So what's the gorgeous black leaved plant in the last photo? (black plants...another trend)

  5. @Desert, there are a few Lombardy Poplars around here. Sigh. I have a grand Nolina out front, matter of fact. They are gorgeous, just not bronze...

    @Denise, I've got a daylily for you. ;) Have fun along our beautiful CA coast.

    @greggo, Yuccas are great! They seem to take water as well as extreme drought. Look for 'Bright Star'--it's truly gorgeous.

    @Danger, sorry you lost so many to frost. They are beautiful plants, did not mean to imply they are not. Right you are, forgot all about the black plant trend. That black plant is Agonis flexuosa, 'After Dark' and it is truly superb. No more hardy than Phormiums though, I regret to say.

  6. Your phormiums are spectacular with their companions. Too bad about the bugs.


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