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With a rainbow of colors to choose from, everyone can find a penstemon to love. The problem is narrowing down your choices! The beautiful spires of tubular blossoms add loads of color to the garden and are beloved by hummingbirds and butterflies alike. With such a wide variety of species and cultivars to choose from, you can have a penstemon blooming for almost the entire growing season. The blooms look stunning in a garden setting and make a wonderful addition to a cut flower arrangement.
Penstemon barbatus (half-hardy) a bushy plant with glossy, lance-shaped leaves and slender, tall stems topped with narrow tubular flowers in summer. Height to 36in (90cm), spread 18in (45cm). Good cultivars include 'Twizzle' with narrow red flowers - available from Thompson & Morgan. The variety praecox produces upright spikes of tubular flowers that range from pink through to purple - available from Thompson & Morgan.Penstemon heterophyllus (bunchleaf) is a shrubby form that produces upright, branching stems, bearing wide-mouthed tubular flowers in shades of blue, purple and magenta. Height to 36in (90cm). Good cultivars include 'Electric Blue' with long-lasting intensely blue flowers from June to October. Height and spread to 24in (60cm) - available from Thompson & Morgan, Gardening Express. The variety 'True Blue' is a pretty blue Penstemon with green and grey tinged foliage - available from Thompson & Morgan.
There is a small group of alpine penstemons that you may find in specialist nurseries. These are usually sold in 9cm (3½in) pots and require a sheltered, sunny position and very well-drained soil. Grow these in gravel gardens, rock or crevice or scree gardens. This group particularly dislikes winter wet, so you may need to erect a perspex cover over your plants; or grow them in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. In containers, use a gritty compost mix: John Innes No. 2 with 30 per cent horticultural grit by volume added.Penstemon Dark Towers (PP 20,013) is a three-foot-tall hybrid beardtongue that blooms with light pink flowers in late spring/early summer. The flowers contrast nicely with the plant's beautiful wine-red foliage. Dark Towers Beardtongue is well adapted to moister growing conditions found in the eastern half of the US where many beardtongues of Western origins will fail. But with just a little extra water, this cultivar also thrives West of the Mississippi as well. The ornamental foliage generally retains good color throughout summer and the plant forms decorative seedheads, making it an excellent companion plant for many warm season ornamental grasses. 'Dark Towers' Penstemon is a hybrid of Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' and Penstemon 'Prairie Splendor' developed and introduced by Dale Lindgren at the University of Nebraska. Companion plants include ornamental grasses, Purple Coneflower (Echinacea) and Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe). (Source: www.highcountrygardens.com)