Design Inspiration: Penstemons. Keeping Pollinators Happy!

July 09, 2018 0 Comments

Design Inspiration: Penstemons. Keeping Pollinators Happy!

I developed a gardening habit much later in life. When I was a child, all I can recall about gardening was being ordered by my Mom to go outside and help her with the weeding—in 90+ degree temperatures in south Texas. That might have a lot to do with why I took a dim view of gardening for most of my life.

After all, I was a weeder. Not a planter. That was Mom’s job. In her later years, though, she developed garden burn-out. Too many hot, humid summers in Texas drove the gardening spirit right out of her. Now, at 93, she stays indoors a lot, content to do paint-by-numbers of flowers. Her motto is: Nature is Hostile.

Some of you were fortunate to gain a love of gardening through a parent who patiently nurtured your green thumb by involving you in all aspects of gardening, not just weeding.

And some of you are even more fortunate to be recognized as garden experts with blogs that have large numbers of followers. I follow a few of these blogs and have learned so much from the authors.

But my blog is intended for gardeners who aren’t experts; it’s for people who have a special love for wildflowers, native or not. You’re like me—always ready to learn, sometimes through trial and error. And a little weeping. Once in a while someone introduces you to a fantastic plant that you've got to have in your garden...

Meet the Penstemons!

In this post, I introduce you to my Design Inspiration today, Penstemons! I’ll also show you a few of my Penstemon-inspired wildflower patterns printed on my products.

Penstemons, also called Beardtongue, are native to North America and can be found in every habitat on this continent. Most of them are native to the arid and semi-arid areas in the Western states. Forty-six species make their home in Idaho, where I live, which is partly why they appeal to me.

The other reason? They’re so darn drought-tolerant and hardy. I read that smoke from wildflowers can actually increase the germination rates of some Penstemons!

We're not on fire here in Boise, but my thermometer is registering 105 degrees and the Penstemons are still blooming. Here are a few Penstemon varieties in both my sister's and my garden:

Beard Tongue Penstemon - Penstemon liniaroides var. coloradoensis (SILVERTON®)

This tiny little specimen is growing well in one of my tall pots. Like a lot of my plants, it's evergreen and very drought-tolerant. The way the delicate stems wave in the breeze make this plant a welcome addition to my garden. 

image of Silverton Penstemon

Shadow Mountain Penstemon - Penstemon x mexicali ‘Psmyers’

This smallish (18in-24in, 46cm-61cm), evergreen penstemon blooms nearly all summer. I learned that Mexicali penstemons are hybrids of less-hardy Mexican species crossed with native American species that are more cold-hardy.  

Mexicali penstemons attract bees, moths and butterflies. And, they're also deer-resistant, which is a plus given that deer frequent my front yard early in the morning.

image of Shadow Mountain penstemon

Photo credit: Plant Select/Ray Daugherty

Garnet Penstemon - Penstemon x mexicali (Windwalker™)

This beauty is planted in my shade garden, so it's not getting tons of that scorching Idaho sun. It seems to be thriving there. Unfortunately, this variety of penstemon is short-lived. In three to five years, I'll need to plant some more. For now, I'm enjoying this flower and think it's a nice contrast to the bright yellow metal chair sitting in front of it. The flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies into the garden, but as you can see from the picture, it has made that bee quite happy.

image of Red Garnet Penstemon

image of Red Garnet penstemon and a bee gathering nectar

Cha Cha Lavender Penstemon 

My sister has this variety of Penstemon in her garden. The flowers are so lovely, I'll be getting one of my own next spring. It's a real showoff in the garden and once established, it will grow into a dense hedge.

image of Cha Cha Lavender Penstemon

Penstemon Fruticosus - Shrubby Penstemon

I love the dark green leaves contrasting with the luminous violet flowers of this bush-like Penstemon. Mine has stopped blooming, though I read that this plant should bloom from May to August. Another bonus: This Penstemon is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of native bees.

image of shrubby penstemon

image of shrubby penstemon

Pineleaf Penstemon - Penstemon pinifolius Compactum - Compact Pineleaf Beardtongue

This species of Beardtongue is native to the Southwestern USA. I like the narrow leaves that look like pine needles. Tubular flame-orange flowers appear in early to midsummer and definitely light up the garden. It's very drought tolerant once established. My sister's plant is struggling along this year, so I spared her the embarrassment and posted a photo taken by Andy King.

image of pineleaf penstemon

Photo credit: Andy King

Red Rocks Penstemon - Penstemon x mexicali

I love the fine red-purple veins that travel through the throat of this Penstemon's beautiful flowers. Red Rocks is a cross between a Mexican and native Penstemon. It's a very long bloomer that thrives in a wide range of soils and with little water. It's a butterfly magnet, but bees like it, too. This one is also in my sister's garden. I have Penstemon envy!

Take a look at that blossom with the bee stuffed into it!

image of red rocks penstemon

Penstemons are such a wonderful plant. I'm always thrilled when I find them growing wild in the foothills here in Boise and elsewhere. What a treat! I'll definitely get some more Penstemons next spring. Our local, non-chain nurseries carry lots of varieties.

How to Plant Penstemons

Want to plant some Penstemons? Here are some tips courtesy of High Country Gardens:

  • Plant them in plain old soil (unfertilized). Fast-draining sandy or gravelly soils are best.
  • Use them in spots without a lot of root competition from mature neighboring plants.
  • Plant in full sun.
  • Water deeply but infrequently (once established).
  • Leave some seeds to ripen on the plants when deadheading. Seedlings from the original plants are always more vigorous and longer lived than their parents.
  • Mulch with gravel. This encourages re-seeding and protects the crowns from getting soggy over the winter. Don't use bark mulch! It can create fungal problems and rot the plants.

More about Penstemons

High Plains Gardening - Penstemons: America's Premier Wildflower

Snoring Dog Studio products featuring Penstemons

images of snoring dog studio penstemon pillows

From left to right: Penstemon Garden Outdoor Pillow , Blue Penstemons Pillow Cover , Carolyn's Penstemons Pillow Cover , Cha Cha Penstemon Pillow Cover

image of snoring dog studio penstemon apparel

From left to right: Red Penstemons Tank Top, Penstemons Everywhere Scarf , Penstemons Headband , Cha Cha Penstemon Accessory Bag

These items are just of few of the products featuring my Penstemon prints. Just do a search on Penstemon on my home page. 

Thank you for stopping by! Comment and let me know if you love Penstemons! 

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