Entries in native plants (9)


Penstemon 'Husker Red'

Last year I planted Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' for the first time. The plant took the summer to establish itself, and while I enjoyed the distinctive maroon tinted foliage, there were no blooms. This year the airy white flowers, with a hint of pink, have proven to be worth the wait.

Penstemon, also called 'Beardtongue', has five stamens. Four are fertile. A fifth, enlarged one is sterile and quite hairy, as seen below, and gives the plant its common name.

I put Penstemon 'Husker Red' in the herb bed, and it is blooming now, along with purple salvia, chives, and knockout roses.

The flowers attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. One can remove spent blossoms to encourage re-blooming, but one should let some flowers go to seed to feed the songbirds. The sturdy upright stems grow about two to three feet tall. Taller types of penstemon may need support. So far mine are not floppy at all, and I have not needed to stake them. 

Native to many parts of North America, there are varieties of penstemon growing in hardiness zones 3-9. Most are evergreen to semi-evergreen, especially in milder climates. Although some penstemons will tolerate light shade, most prefer full sun, and foliage color and bloom production will be best with at least eight hours of sun per day. Penstemon likes well drained, neutral, even poor soil. It needs no more than a single application of organic fertilizer once a year, and mulching should be minimized to discourage crown rot. It is draught tolerant and pest and deer resistant. Nor is it prone to diseases, though it may experience root rot in consistently wet soil and may suffer from mildew in extremely humid, crowded conditions. The herb bed is raised about a foot and is filled with better draining soil than my native clay. 'Husker Red' is said to be a good penstemon for moist soil and humid conditions. Time will tell how it holds up to my steamy summers, but so far it is doing well.

Penstemon is best propagated by division or cuttings. I am already thinking of new places to plant this great, low-care perennial.


Making Friends and Garden Memories

A few days ago I drove a couple hours up to Scottsboro, Alabama to meet Eve, whom I have corresponded with through her blog, Sunny Side Up. Eve rides a Harley and enjoys gardening and photography. I suspected we would get along well, and I was right. We were like old friends, right away.

We met at John's Native Gardens, a nursery which specializes in native azaleas and also has a wonderful assortment of Japanese maples, ferns, and many other plants. As I turned my car off Highway 79 and drove up a winding country drive, I could tell I was in for a treat.

I looked over rolling fields and a huge pond, and a feeling of peace settled over me. LaRue Anderson gave us a tour of the gardens. LaRue's husband planted most of the gardens before he passed away some years ago, and now she maintains and adds to it. Eve and I followed her, examining trees and shrubs. The assortment of Japanese maples, conifers, and flowering shrubs is breathtaking. When I thought there couldn't be anything more beautiful, we came to a path winding through the woodlands. Delightful fragrance pulled us toward mature stands of native azaleas and rhododendrons, and every turn revealed ever more beautiful blooms. And THEN we came to plants for sale! I brought home two native azaleas and a sweet shrub, as well as a tiny Alabama snow wreath seedling, which LaRue let me dig up for free. This is a plant on my Most Desired list, so I am very grateful.

After leaving the nursery, I followed Eve to her place, where I enjoyed more beautiful gardens, a woodland walk, and two cute doggies. And before I could make it back to my car, Eve was digging up passalong plants for me. And did I mention the sandwich, apple cake, and iced tea? I think most gardeners are nurturing souls who love the soil and have generous hearts, and LaRue and Eve both seem to be like that.

So my life is richer today, with new friends and new plants, and sweet garden memories to dream upon. Thank you, Eve and LaRue!

If you are in the area, give LaRue a call (256-582-4549). She would love to see you!