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Penstemon or Beardtongue

Penstemon cobaea, tenuis

Penstemons are becoming hugely popular in gardens, it seems, and they encompass a wide range of species native to the U.S. Since I first started gardening, I was attracted to foxgloves but haven’t had much success with them so far, as with many perennial cottage garden plants they fare better in cooler summers. I was also on the lookout for spiky tall plants for parts of my garden that needed less sprawly things (I seem to have a lot of sprawliness). I’ve tried Mulleins, foxglove, larkspur.

During one trip to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower center I noticed a clump of foxglove-looking flowers with bell-shaped blooms dancing underneath a small tree. As I got closer I saw that they were Penstemon cobaea, a flower native to Texas. Not only were they spiky but quite elegant in their blooms, and even better, they were blooming in a partly shady area, which is just about most of my garden–part shade. I bought a few plants in spring while they were in bloom, but their show was over by June.

Penstemons are commonly known as Beardtongue, and not only is it possible to grow many of the species here, but also now they are becoming subjects for hybridizing (see High Country Garden’s site for their beautiful selection of Penstemons).

Penstemon cobaea likes drier soils so I have them in a rockish area of my garden along with some garden pinks I’ve grown from seed, and which also like limey soils that stay dry on top.

My newest planting is Penstemon tenuis, commonly called “Gulf Coast Penstemon”. This is another Texas native found growing near the Gulf. It tolerates wetter soils and likes part shade as well.

These might be the beginning of a penstemon obsession!

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