The Otley Phlox

The Story of the Otley Phlox

Fred M. Simpson was born in 1879 to an Otley ironmonger. Through his working life he was a plumber in Harrogate, a farmer in Canada, and then a poultry breeder in Otley.  His passion for horticulture only began in his 50s when ill health forced him into a most productive retirement.  He used his skills in cross breeding to breed new strains of Korean chrysanthemums, lupins, Michaelmas daisies, and finally in his 70s perennial phlox.

In 2014, Otley in Bloom heard about this pioneering horticulturalist and wanted to bring his plants back to Otley.  An ongoing search has so far not revealed any known examples of his chrysanthemums, lupins and Michaelmas daisies, but this year we will be planting in Wharfemeadows Park examples of five perennial phlox varieties bred by Fred M Simpson in the 1950s.

Mr Simpson bred the phlox to be more compact and bushy than other available varieties.  The guiding principle of his work is described as “a search for perfection, a discontent with things as they are, a feeling that however good a plant of his creation might be it could be made better.  “I’ve got a good thing here but I must try to improve it” has been his personal motto.  And his criterion has been his personal sense of beauty, that subtle appreciation of colour and form which he shared with his artistic sisters – ‘If it doesn’t suit me out it goes out onto the muck heap’”*

*extract from West Riding Farming Personalities article from Otley Museum

Fred Simpson in 1955 on his 76th birthday showcasing Phlox “Lady Mowbray”

With grateful thanks to Otley Museum and Jane Britten.

The plants have been propagated by Courtyard Planters who have donated plants to Leeds City Council Parks in Otley and to the National Collection at Temple Newsam.  If you would like to purchase an Otley phlox, they are available from Courtyard Planters, with 50p from the sale of each plant coming to Otley in Bloom to support more horticultural projects.  

Otley Choice

If you are able to report any known examples of other plants bred by Fred M Simpson, we would be delighted to hear from you.

Otley has its own Phlox

We’ve been putting in some research on the Otley Phlox and Fred M Simpson.  This is the potted history.

Fred M Simpson had a poultry business in the 1930s on the site of Stephen Smiths Garden Centre, Pool Road.  In the 1950s he moved towards plant breeding.  His successes were:

  • Otley Korean Cushion Chrysanthemums called “Lucy Simpson”, “Margaret Simpson” and “Grace Simpson” – no longer available.
  • A lupin “Otley Yellow” – no longer available.

His best work however was with perennial phlox which Otley in Bloom would like to bring back to the town.  He came up with the Otley Regal series: “Windsor”, “Balmoral” & “Sandringham” are still available at a few nurseries through the country; “Glamis”, “Harewood” and “Holyrood” are no longer available; also “Otley Choice” and “Otley Purple” which are available at a few nurseries. 

If you know anything about the man, or have any of his plants in your garden we would love to hear from you.