Penstemons Merit More Attention

Penstemon 'Pensham Laura'

In the Trial Gardens at the University of Georgia, we look at dozens of echinaceas, heucheras, hibiscus, iris and most of the popular genera. For good reason, that is what people are buying — and any data is good data. However, we also evaluate lesser-known genera such as pulmonaria, drimiopsis, silene and penstemon. The latter genus is exceedingly popular in many European countries, reasonably well known in the western U.S., but not as much in the East. The only ones that seem to receive attention are the P. digitalis types, best represented by the ‘Husker’ name, yet breeders are working on them and growers have numerous options from which to choose. Grower information is available through brokers, breeders and young plant growers. All the plants mentioned below can readily fit into an existing perennial program.

In the landscape, most penstemons in the East generally only persist for three to four years. It is just the nature of the plant. Check hardiness ratings, because many are using genes from Southwestern natives and may not be sufficiently hardy in your region. As always, it takes time for retailers to embrace lesser-known plants — but let’s not ignore this excellent plant simply because we are awash in others.

Recommended Penstemons
I asked my students, Christian Fox and Macy Hall, to evaluate our penstemons based on their landscape performance, and come up with those they would recommend to their non-gardening friends. Here are a few we need to be putting in front of people.

The Phoenix series: Upright, about 2 to 2½ feet tall, flowers in many colors. Bred by Syngenta Flowers. (Zones 6 to 8)

We have rated ‘Phoenix Magenta’ highly, although red and pink have also been good. Eight colors are available. The large gloxinia-like flowers are particularly attractive at retail.

The Pensham series: Upright, smaller flowers, excellent longevity. (Zones 6 to 8)

The Penshams were bred by U.K. breeder Edward Wilson, who developed more than 50 named plants in the series. We received ours from Blooms of Bressingham. They are more persistent than other penstemons we have tried. The best has been ‘Pensham Laura,’ but ‘Pensham Amelia Jane,’ with its bright red flowers, is excellent as well.

The Polaris series: From Green Fuse, bred by Florensis. (Zones 5 to 8)

Easily available through many wholesale sources, there are at least three colors in this series with more coming. Large flowers, strong stems and good weather tolerance make this series well worth considering. We were most impressed with ‘Polaris Purple.’

Penstemon ‘Sweet Joanne’: From Blooms of Bressingham, bred by Dale Lindgren, University of Nebraska. (Zones 6 to 8)

The plants are hybrids of P. mexicali, so they have hybrid vigor and an upright habit. The soft pinkish-mauve flower color is subtler than many others but shows up well in the landscape, nevertheless. Plants are 2 to 2½ feet tall and provide weeks of excellent performance.

Penstemon ‘Red Riding Hood’ and P. ‘Iron Maiden’: Excellent upright habit, bright colors. (Zones 5 to 8)

I put these in because the flower colors are like magnets to shoppers, to say nothing of butterflies and hummingbirds. They are seed-propagated and may not be easy to find. Since they are not really part of a series, growers tend to shy away from them, but they are truly wonderful.  GG

Leave a Reply

More From Varieties...
2017 North Carolina University Field Trials

January 17, 2018

2017 North Carolina State University Field Trial Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results for North Carolina State University/JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC.

Read More

January 16, 2018

Ball Horticultural Company, KeyGene Announce Successful Genome Sequencing of Impatiens

The companies’ breakthrough high-quality genome sequence and assembly of I. walleriana should lead to more efficient breeding and identification of disease resistance markers for important industry solutions.

Read More
Golden-State-Bulb-Begonia-Feature

January 16, 2018

PanAmerican Seed Buys Begonia Product Line From Golden State Bulb Growers

The acquisition of the popular AmeriHybrid and On Top begonia genetics expands PanAmerican Seed’s assortment in this important class.

Read More
Latest Stories
2017 North Carolina University Field Trials

January 17, 2018

2017 North Carolina State University Field Trial Result…

Check out the 2017 field trial results for North Carolina State University/JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC.

Read More

January 16, 2018

Ball Horticultural Company, KeyGene Announce Successful…

The companies’ breakthrough high-quality genome sequence and assembly of I. walleriana should lead to more efficient breeding and identification of disease resistance markers for important industry solutions.

Read More
Golden-State-Bulb-Begonia-Feature

January 16, 2018

PanAmerican Seed Buys Begonia Product Line From Golden …

The acquisition of the popular AmeriHybrid and On Top begonia genetics expands PanAmerican Seed’s assortment in this important class.

Read More

January 16, 2018

20 Colorful Foliage and Tropical Plants for Garden Inte…

Add a bit of the tropics to your product mix with new foliage and tropical plant varieties that offer bold colors and distinct patterns.

Read More
Overview-UGA-Trial-Gardens-2017

January 15, 2018

2017 University of Georgia Field Trial Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results for the University of Georgia in Athens, GA.

Read More
Ipomea-FM-Limon

January 14, 2018

2017 Texas A&M University Field Trial Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results for the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton, TX.

Read More
Metrolina-Southern-Garden-Tour-Feature

January 13, 2018

2018 Southern Garden Tour Includes Visits to Young’s Pl…

The tour is scheduled for June 5-7, 2018, and offers floriculture industry members the opportunity to view trials of thousands of new and proven plant varieties.

Read More
Bidens-Golden-Empire-Danziger

January 10, 2018

Growing Tips for Bidens From a Plant Expert

Even with the ramp up in breeding, producing bidens still takes attention to detail and a focus on quality.

Read More
California Coast

January 9, 2018

2018 California Spring Trials Dates, Times, Locations

It’s time to start planning for a great road trip in April to see all the latest plants on display. This quick reference guide will help you map out your trip.

Read More
Take-2-Veggie-Combo-Burpee-Seed

January 6, 2018

Why Growers Should Not Market Their Plants, But the Sol…

In his latest column, Allan Armitage says landscapers, designers, and gardeners want solutions to problems, not simply a recommendation for one more handsome plant.

Read More

January 4, 2018

Stand-Out New Varieties That Keep D.S. Cole Growers Co…

See what new varieties stood out to Doug Cole, owner of D.S. Cole Growers in Loudon, NH, this year.

Read More
New-Plant-Display-at-Retail

January 3, 2018

Kelly Norris: Why We Need to Reevaluate the New Plant T…

The value of a new plant seems scaled on how quickly producers add it to their lines as opposed to the value it might actually have at the point of consumption.

Read More
Houseplants-for-Millennials

December 29, 2017

Why Millennials Can’t Get Their Fill of Foliage Plants …

The latest Millennial obsession with houseplants goes beyond a desire to grow something. It’s a lifestyle choice they’re making for the mind, body, and soul.

Read More
WebTrackToGo

December 24, 2017

Ball Seed Updates WebTrack To Go App With Enhanced Feat…

The latest update lets users scan seed packets for germination percentage, allowing for efficient production planning and inventory management.

Read More
Costa Farms’ Trial Gardens mimic spring garden conditions across the U.S. to test the metal of new varieties

December 22, 2017

Costa Farms Hosting Winter Open House in January

Costa Farms is planning to open its 2-acre trial garden on Jan. 15, 2018, for its annual Winter Trial Garden Open House, where visitors will have the opportunity to see more than 500 plant varieties of annuals and perennials.

Read More
Begonias-I’Conia-Series-Dümmen-Orange-Miss-Montreal

December 19, 2017

34 New Flowering Annuals to Brighten Up Your Product Mi…

Consumers will soon have the opportunity to experiment with colorful, big-impact blooms in their containers and landscapes. Here are 31 new introductions to consider that will color-up your product mix.

Read More
Combo-at-Youngs-Plant-Farm

December 12, 2017

How to Produce Stunning Combination Containers

It’s easy to produce your own attention-grabbing combos, if you follow this advice from a master combination designer.

Read More
SunStanding-New-Guinea-Impatiens-Dummen-Orange-feature

December 7, 2017

Growing Tips From a Pro for SunStanding New Guinea Impa…

SunStanding New Guinea impatiens hybrids spruce up the landscape with vibrant blooms that explode with color in both sun and shade areas, and they hold up well in heat and humidity.

Read More