Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The best penstemon (shhhhh! It's a secret)...

Westridge (my xeriscape) early June
 As I type this, dozens (perhaps even a hundred or more) penstemon aficionados from across the US and Canada are wending their way to Boise for the annual Penstemon Society foray: I have not attended these in recent years, and would have loved to go to this one (I LOVE Idaho--especially this time of year)...but I shall be wending my way to Scotland for a week instead (boo hoo)...but I think the best penstemon is right here in my Xeriscape. And it doesn't even exist to speak of in nurseries or books: what I am talking about is the masses of hot pinky magenta in the picture above, which contrast so dramatically with Eriogonum umbellatum var. aureum on the right. Over the years we have planted dozens of species of penstemons on this slope, most of which have bloomed magnificently and eventually passed on to the Elysian fields...

Another view of Westridge
 But two penstemons--closely related--persisted. Penstemon pseudospectabilis was one, and the other, Penstemon palmeri....these have gradually intergraded to produce this wonderful strain of plants that more closely resembles pseudospectabilis, but some individuals have a distinct touch of palmeri...I suspect there is some heterosis happening (that's hybrid vigor) for these seem to expand and multiply on this very dry slope which taxes even the cacti at times...

Closeup of my pseudospectabilis x palmeri hybrids
 Here's a closer look--the clasping, peltate leaves are attractive in their own right, especially glistening with the glaucousness that suggests Penstemon palmeri. For purists, of course, a hybrid like this is annoying. But I ain't tearing them out, believe me...I'm too busy admiring them!

A picture of the same slope ten or more years ago...
Here is a picture I think I took around 2003 of the same slope (the image internal data says 2007, but it was taken with an Olympus--my first digital camera--which I am sure was defunct by then). I think these are purer pseudospectabilis at this point. Don't they look different in the morning backlight?

Their flowers are so vivid they hold up in the glaring midday sun--but my pictures taken then do not do them justice...

Just had to share this last vignette of what has turned out to be a pretty decent spring (if we quietly ignore April--the cruelest month as we all know)...

So off to Scotland, laddies and lassies! And may Summer come gently to all of your gardens!


  1. Gosh that is gorgeous. I wonder if it would work here. We have lots of penstemons but that color is a winner. And may summer come to Scotland! Have fun.

  2. You could prevent the penstemons from interbreeding by dead heading. However, this would have stopped the formation of your treasured hybrids. Unfortunately, I am sure neither parent nor the hybrids would last many years in my northern zone 5 climate.

    As a gardener who aims to attract pollinators, I must admit I am rather fond of my swath of Penstemon eatonii backed by later blooming Penstemon cardinalis. I have a few Penstemon murrayanus and other species mixed in too. While I was installing a new crevice garden near my Penstemon bed a female Ruby-Throat Hummingbird visited the P. cardinalis. My wife says I need to install a bench. I agree.


  3. Penstemons are one of the most valuable late summer-flowering perennials and, in all but the coldest regions, are easy and reliable. Lovely blooms!

  4. How timely, I was just relishing the same cross in my garden as I was showing Bill Adams the garden last week. I was really enjoying my hybrid that achieves the stature, leaves and deep color of pseudospectabilis but with larger flowers of palmeri. Obviously I am not a purist.

  5. Since Samantha mentioned valuable late summer perennials, I was curious if you all too have Liatris in your gardens? I love watching the Monarchs fight over my Liatris ligulistylis. Liatris pychnostachya is so gloriously tall that it can block an unsightly view. My locally native Liatris cylindracea is wonderful in its dry-rocky habitat. I am sure Liatris punctata from more western locations would be great for xeric gardens in Colorado.


  6. Liatris punctate is fabulous in the prairie at DBG--but can't seem to get it going from seed in my home garden. Shall have to try tubelings this fall...

    Still in Scotland--about to board the plane!


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