The colour range can be seen in this bed of assorted Penstemons during mid-August.
Penstemons are a group of perennials – sometimes evergreen or semi-evergreen -which are deservedly popular. They flower in the later part of the year, but are usually showing colour by end of July – or a little earlier.
Beardtongue flowers as they
are commonly known, originate from areas
of North and Central America, with a diverse
range as to be expected from such a variety of
locations. Habitats can range from dry scrubland
through to high alpine plant situations.
They are grown for their huge range of colours, having open tubular or bell flowers, rising above the foliage on long stems clad in racemes or panicles of individual flowers all having a protruding ‘tongue’ from which the common name of Beard Tongue or Beardtongue plants.
Penstemons are easy-to-grow evergreen perennials and they really do brighten up the late summer and autumn garden and the evergreen types are not to be dismissed for giving a little winter cover and interest.
Penstemon flower colour range is from pure white through all shades violet, purple, pink and deepest red. Some flowers are attractively spotted on the inside and lip of the tupe – especially the beard or tongue!
Penstemon Port Wine: Penstemon Sour Grapes: Penstemon Alice Hindley
The foliage, though not spectacular, is
attractive with lance shaped (lancolate)
leaves and normally glossy dark green. The
plants can individually be leggy or mostly
clump-forming with spikelets of flowers,
often held erect – sometimes more lax. The
flowers resemble those of the
- Digitalis – (Scrophulariaceae) and belong
to the same family with the typical open
Penstemon plants can be grown in a
border, a bed, or even a container. All they
require is reasonable soil in which to grow.
They are relatively drought tolerant, and
whilst Penstemon are happy in full sun, they
will tolerate a degree of shade as well.
They are mid height - from 18 - 30in, and
may need a little support from a few birch
twigs or similar plant support.
They are generally hardy, but are not too
happy in wet soil in a cold winter! The
dormant plant is best covered with mulch for
protection in the coldest areas.
Like most perennials, they benefit from
dead-heading after flowering – simply cut
out the faded flower spikes – which will
prolong the flowering season.
Early spring, trim back the damaged or
wayward stems – back almost to ground level
if required. If the plant has formed a bushy
plant with no sign of winter harm, simply
trim to tidy.
Penstemons are best in a slightly
alkaline (non-acid) soil.
Well drained soils are best. Raised beds
are perfect. Incorporate plenty of coarse
sand/grit into the planting hole.
They rarely require feeding – an annual
organic mulch in winter or spring is
The form of the leaf is usually an
indication of the particular variety’s
winter hardiness. The narrower leaved
varieties of Penstemons are normally the
Penstemons can be grown from seed – best
sown in early spring in a heated propagator
or greenhouse. Late winter is also ok.
Beardtongue plants can be grown from
softwood cutting in summer, or
semi ripe cuttings in late summer. You
can start taking cuttings in august – and
continue to do so until end of October. They
can be potted up once rooted, BUT the young
plants will need care through the winter –
preferably in a frost free greenhouse.
The easiest way to increase stock is by
division – best carried out in spring just
as the plants are starting to re-grow after
winter. can be divided in the spring.
Penstemons are contagious! Once you have
a plant and are able to see their value in
terms of colour and ease of maintenance, you
are almost sure to seek out others.
Good Varieties of Penstemon include the
following, but they are
now being extensively hybridized with
new varieties almost monthly – mainly from
P. Husker Red
P. Dark Towers – Deepest Red
P. heterophyllus – the Foothill Penstemon – Deep mauve – very floriferous
P. digitalis – assorted
P. Apple Blossom – Pink and white
P. Garnet AGM – Deep Wine red
P. Sour Grapes – Light mauve with striped white inners.
P. Burgundy Wine – deep red.
Hindley AGM – Violet purple with
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