The perennial plant Penstemon is one of the real flowering jewels of the summer garden. A most versatile plant that is great for combining into mixed borders or planting into containers, as they easily contrast with a wide range of shrubs, perennials and bedding plants.
Penstemons not only have the advantage of a long flowering period from June to October, but also come in a wide range of flower colours, from beautiful pastel shades through to bright fiery reds and deep purples, many of which have delicate markings on the inside of their flowers. Penstemons are amongst the easiest of perennials to grow in your garden and the steer variety of colours and long lasting flower display, make them a must for any summer border.
In early spring, fresh green shoots are produced from ground level, which quickly grow into clumps of bright green narrow foliage. From early summer the stems are covered with masses of beautiful, snapdragon-like flowers that will attract many beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies.
Good varieties to choose for borders include Penstemon 'Garnet', a hardy and bushy variety with crimson flowers, Penstemon 'Hidcote Pink' with its delicate rose-pink flowers and Penstemon 'Sour Grapes' that produces wonderful grey-blue flowers.
The compact varieties are better for planting into containers on patios. Good varieties include Penstemon 'Apple Blossom' with pink and white flowers, and Penstemon 'Evelyn' with its rose pink flowers. Penstemons prefer an open, sunny position and like to be planted into a well-drained, moisture retentive soil. Regular dead heading of faded flowers helps to prolong the flowering period, often well into late October.
During winter do not cut away the old woody stems produced the previous year, as these will protect the plant until the spring. In April cut back these stems to just above ground level to encourage new shoots to grow. Penstemons can easily be propagated from cuttings in the early autumn. Simply take a tip cutting about 8cm long and remove the lower leaves before inserting into a small pot containing multi-purpose compost.
Enclose the pot into a clear polythene bag and stand in a well-lit position until rooted. Penstemons can also be easily raised from seed by sowing under glass in February or March, ready for planting out in May or June. Alternatively purchase pot grown plants from Garden Centres in summer or early spring.
Kim's tip of the week
There are a large number of dwarf Penstemons which are great for planting into rock gardens and raised beds. These tiny shrubs, often with a creeping habit, will flower a little later than other Alpine plants, therefore helping to extend your flowering display.