Penstemon is also known as ‘the beard tongue’ and belongs to the family Scrophulariaceae, which contains over a hundred genera including Antirrhinum and Foxgloves. So it is no surprise that the tubular flowers spiral round each stem.
Penstemon are reliable perennials with fibrous roots that do not stray. They are relatively trouble free and resistant to slugs and other garden pests. Keep growing young plants to increase your stock.
Perfect Penstemon Growing
- Penstemon flower for six months from May to November in a wide range of colours. Reds and pinks are my favourite but purples, blues and white come a close second.
- They hate cold, wet feet in winter and will die as a result
- Penstemon mixed hybrids make good cut flowers. Briefly expose the cut end to a flame, Â harvest in the morning and condition the stems by soaking them for several hours in warm water
- Penstemon are happy as bedders in borders, pots and containers in sun or part shade in virtually any well-drained soil. There are varieties for most situations.
- Border types PenstemonsÂ are more satisfactory when grown in masses rather than individually
- Penstemon is a good Bee plant attracting pollinating insects into the garden .
- Dead head regularly by removing the whole flower spike.
- Top Tip – In the spring when all danger of frosts have passed cut back the old foliage down to the new green shoots. Penstemons can become woody and leggy if they are not pruned annually
- As plants are not very long lived propagate from cuttings in September (or May) by plunging into gritty soil or compost see Mixed Penstemon
Growing From Seed
Seed is available from Chiltern’s and other merchants from the 6 inch high rockery Penstemon hirsutus pygmaeus through to the 6 foot high Penstemon palmeri.Â Alternatively gather seeds from friends, beg from clubs or buyÂ mixtures to give a new Penstemon a try.
A great resource is provided by Jim Swayne and Tom Clothier listing over 200 Penstemon species. In addition to height and width there are comments about habitat and germination temperatures. For detail check out the link
Penstemon are native to USA and Mexico and survive and thrive in a variety of habitats. They are reputed to have been used by Native Americans to relieve toothache .
Linnaeus named Chelone pentstemon in 1753 to correspond to the notion that the name referred to the unusual fifth stamen.
Although several species were found in the 18th century, they continued to be classified as Chelone until about the 1820s. At the start of the 19th centuary the number of known species increased to 63 (now over 250) and seeds began to be offered for sale in Europe. The earliest UK Penstemon dates from 1813, with John Fraser offering four species in London. Subsequently many hybrids were developed in Europe. American Penstemon Society was formed to promote both horticultural and botanical interest.
National Collections in the UK include Warren & Kate Gilchrist Tadley, Near Basingstoke, Pershore College of Horticulture and Clive & Kathy Gandley Gatcombe
Top 20 Penstemon Species
Penstemon Barbartus good border varities
Penstemon confertus yellow flowers
Penstemon cyanthus blue rockery flower
Penstemon isophyllus reliable red flowers
Penestmon hartwegii. Tubular Bells
Penstemon barbatus Golden-beard or Beardlip
Penstemon pinifolius Green pineneedle or Mersea yellow.
Penstemon digitalis huskers red
Penstemon eatonii Gray Eaton
Penstemon palmeri Palmer’s penstemon
Penstemon heterophyllus father of many blue plants
Penstemon hirsutus hairy beardstongue
Top 20 Penstemon Hybrid Varieties
Descriptions from Chilton Nurseries
Apple Blossom Small flower. Pale pink with delicately streaked white throat. Clump forming. Ht 80cm. AGM
Burgundy Dark reddish-purple flowers and streaked throat. Robust plant. Very dark red stems. Ht 1m.
Catherine de le Mare Vivid purple-blue tinged pink. Spreading habit. Ht 45cm. AGM
Chester Scarlet. Large intensely bright red flowers on red stems. Large, sparse foliage. Ht 90cm AGM
Evelyn Slender rose-pink flowers. White throat streaked purplish red. Neat bushy plant, dense narrow foliage, very floriferous. Ht 50cm. AGM
Flamingo Bright pink with large, round, white mouth. Ht 95cm.
Geoff Hamilton Wine-red flowers, translucent in the sun. Flowers from summer to autumn.
Heavenly Blue Bright blue flowers with a hint of mauve. Spreading. Ht 45cm.
Margery Fish Pale blue to mauve flowers. Very floriferous. Spreading habit. Very hardy. Ht 45cm. AGM
Maurice Gibbs Magenta with white mouth. Tall, erect plant. Ht 90cm. AGM
Modesty Bright red-pink with white streaked throat. Shiny olive-green foliage. Ht 80cm.
Mother of Pearl Cream tinged azure-blue and pale purple flowers with maroon streaked throat. Tall, erect plant. Soft green foliage. Ht 110cm.
Pensham Czar Large violet flowers with white throats. Excellent growth habit.
Pensham Kay Burton Vibrant pink. Vigorous large-flowered variety. Ht 1m.
Port Wine Large reddy-purple flowers. Heavily marked throat with no dark patches at mouth. Tall, stiff, upright plant. Ht 1m. AGM
Purple Bedder Deep purple to purple-red. Purple to green stems grow horizontal then vertical. Compact. Ht 70cm.
Raven Large deep purple flowers with prominent white, purple-veined throat. Very hardy. Tall, very erect. Ht 110cm. AGM
Schoenholzeri Firebird Bright scarlet flowers, bushy, narrow, green foliage. Very hardy.
Snowstorm Pure white. Compact habit. Ht 70cm.
Sour Grapes Deep purple with blue base creamy throat. Flower buds in clusters.
RHS The Garden Magazine for September 2009 has a special offer of 4 different AGM Penstemon varieties. White Bedder, Hidcote Pink, Stapleford Gem and Osprey all 28-42 ” tall.
Gardeners Perennial Tips
Royal Horticultural Society RHS ‘Gardening for All’
National Council for Conservation of Plants and Gardens ‘Conservation through Cultivation.’
Garden Organic National Charity for Organic Gardening.