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This North American native plant has a home in nearly every garden with flowers that hummingbirds love. Long blooming with brilliantly colored, tubular flowers, penstemons -- ironically -- have been a staple in European gardens for decades.
There are many different penstemon types. The leaves are lance-shape or oval, sometimes purple-red as in 'Husker Red'. Some Western species need outstanding drainage to dry conditions and won't thrive during wet weather. However, many, such as 'Husker Red', thrive in a wide variety of conditions. Just be sure to provide excellent drainage. Mulch in areas where a type is marginally hardy.
Part Sun, Sun
Under 6 inches to 8 feet
8-20 inches wide
more varieties for Penstemon
Penstemon barbatus has narrow spikes of two-lipped tubular flowers about 2 inches long in spring. The colors can be red, pink, carmine, or purple. The 8-inch lance-shape leaves have a whitish bloom. The plant can reach 3-6 feet tall. Zones 4-9
'Electric Blue' penstemon
Penstemon heterophyllus 'Electric Blue', just as its name implies, has flowers that glow with color. Notably drought-tolerant, the plant grows about 18 inches tall. Zones 6-9
Penstemon eatonii is a showstopper with bold red-orange flowers. It's also more shade-tolerant than many other penstemons. It grows 3 feet tall. Zones 3-9
'Husker Red' penstemon
Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' blooms in early to midsummer with loose spires of 1-inch tubular pink-flushed white flowers. The lance-shape deep maroon leaves are 4-5 inches long and arranged in a basal rosette. It grows about 2-1/2 feet tall. Zones 3-8
Penstemon pinifolius is a summer bloomer with loose spires of 1-inch scarlet, narrowly tubular flowers. It has needlelike foliage and is slightly woody at the base. This species is excellent in dry rock gardens or walls. 4-10
plant Penstemon with
Lady's mantle looks great in the garden and in a vase. Its scalloped leaves catch rain or drewdrops, making them look dusted with jewels. The chartreuse flowers appear in playful, frothy clusters above the foliage. Lady's mantle is ideal for softening the edge of a shaded path or creating a groundcover in dappled shade.
Lamb's-ears is a top pick for a groundcover in a hot, baked spot. Its silver felted foliage quickly forms a dense, delightful mat. It also contrasts nicely with other foliage and most flowers. enhances almost everything. Depending on the type and your growing conditions, it may self-sow freely to the point of becoming a bother. In hot humid climates, lamb's ears may "melt down" in summer, becoming brown and limp.A quite different but related plant, big betony is worth growing for its shade tolerance, dark green crumpled leaves, and bright purple spikes of whorled 1-inch flowers in late spring. Wood betony is similar but not as shade-tolerant.
Catmint is one of the toughest perennials you can grow. It's a proven performer during hot, dry weather, and the silvery foliage and blue flowers look great most of the season. Deadhead or cut back hard after first flush of bloom to encourage more flowers. Average, well-drained soil is usually sufficient. Tall types may need gentle staking; it sometimes seeds freely.As you might guess from the common name, catmint is a favorite of cats. They'll often roll around in the plants in delight.