I’ve collected together our full range of Penstemon for you to scroll through with ease. Clicking on a variety will link you back to the entry in our shop. I’ve grouped the varieties sort of by colour, but with no particular skill.
- Penstemon ‘White Bedder’ (‘Snowstorm’) is a lovely stocky Penstemon whose creamy buds open to pure white flowers. White in its effect in the garden, but showing pink staining on close inspection. Flowers all summer if dead headed regularly.Introduced in 1912 by Forbes as a clone, but received its AGM from the RHS in 1930 as a seed raised strain. This possibly explains the plethora of synonyms: ‘Burford White’, ‘Hidcote White’, ‘Snowflake’, ‘Snowstorm’, ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Bisham Seedling’ (also a variety in its own right)For a sunny spot in decent soil.
- Penstemon ‘Sour Grapes’ (‘Stapleford Gem’) is a larger, taller cultivar with strong upright flowering spikes of creamy white flowers, painted lilac and pink on the outside. 60cm, flowering throughout Summer.This is a cultivar with a confused history. It is entirely possible that two similar cultivars were named ‘Sour Grapes’, one raised by Nellie Britten in the late 1930’s and the other given to Marjery Fish in the 1950’s. Further confusion comes from a similarity and mixed labelling in the trade with P.’Stapleford Gem’. I don’t want to make any claims as to which ours is, I would just say that it is a strong grower of dense habit with distinctively dark, slightly hairy leaves which at some times of the year are markedly cross shaped in the way they grow on the stem. The flowers vary dependant on conditions but are a mix of lilac and blue shades and most lovely.
Penstemon ‘Pensham Czar’ is one of the modern Pensham series of Penstemons bred by Edward Wilson for strong stems and a long flowering season. It shares a similar colouring to the lovely ‘Alice Hindley’ and ‘John Nash’ but with shorter growth. The flowers are a subtle lavender with a white throat.
- Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Heavenly Blue’ is a tough penstemon forming a low mound absolutely smothered in summer in rich blue flowers. The flower colour is predominantly blue, but overlaid with tints of pink. In some conditions, the pink can be more dominant, but the overall effect of the display is always blue. Excellent garden value at the front of the border. 18in Cut back lightly in Autumn; harder in Spring
Penstemon ‘Pensham Laura’ is a modern unashamedly girly Penstemon. Its beautiful clean white tubes are boldly edged with candy pink giving a striking and irresistible contrast. It has a bushy habit and is fairly short and compact. Like most Penstemons ,Penstemon ‘Pensham Laura’ has the capacity to flower for months if dead-headed and can be one of the mainstays of the late Summer garden.
- Penstemon ‘Hidcote Pink’ is a free flowering shrubby perennial with spikes of pink tubular flowers with a red-marked cream throat. The flower spikes are narrow and the growth habit upright making a distinctive variety. Flowers are a clean sugary pink with red in the throat. A plant of excellent constitution introduced by Blooms in 1951 and assumed to have been raised at the National Trust’s garden at Hidcote. Gives a long and colourful summer display Cut back lightly in Autumn; harder in Spring
Penstemon ‘King George V’ is a good hardy Penstemon with stocky growth and rich red tubular flowers with a white throat. A great old variety which is most definitely red, not some reddy pink or rosy purple, but a good honest scarlet with a broad bright green leaf. Flowers all summer if dead-headed regularly. Sunny spot appreciated
- Penstemon ‘Firebird’ ( P.’Schoenholzeri’ ) is a free flowering shrubby perennial with spikes of tubular red flowers. It was bred for persistence and lives up to this excellently. The growth habit is lax and the foliage fine like its parent. Gives a long and colourful summer display. A very robust hybrid. Cut back lightly in Autumn; harder in Spring. Bred in Switzerland in 1939 by Paul Schoenholzer by crossing P.’Andenken an Friedrich Hahn’ x P. ‘Southgate Gem’. an attempt to remove the plum tinge from the former.
- Penstemon ‘Garnet’ ( P.’Andenken an Friederich Hahn’ ) A free flowering shrubby perennial with spikes of tubular deep wine red flowers and fine narrow foliage. A Penstemon of excellent constutution which is also attractive just in leaf. Gives a long and colourful summer display even when not deadheaded. Cut back lightly in Autumn; harder in Spring. Bred to improve the constitution of P.’Southgate Gem’ by crossing it with (possibly) P.hirsutus by the Swiss breeder, Hermann Wartmann in 1918. Although not stictly correct,the name ‘Garnet’ is the name usually applied in English speaking countries and the one under it was introduced in the 1930’s
Penstemon ‘Pensham Plum Jerkum’ is a modern Penstemon with dark morello cherry tubular flowers, even darker in the throat with prominent white bee lines. Like most Penstemon it has the capacity to flower for months if dead-headed and can be one of the mainstays of the late Summer garden. It has an upright habit of moderate size, growing 2-3ft according to water availability and soil fertility. Penstemon ‘Pensham Plum Jerkum’ is good for bees.
There are around 250 species of Penstemon, and all but one, P.frutescens, are native to the Northern America, chiefly the Western United States.
Penstemons can be split into the species, of which not many are common in British gardens, and the European hybrids which have been bred from a relatively small number of mostly Mexican species, notably P.gentianoides, P.hartwegii and P.cobaea. Breeding began in Continental Europe sometime befor 1835, but details are confused and records scarce. Often the species credited for a cross was not introduced until after the record published ! By 1850-1870 breeding was well underway on both sides of the Channel and several named cultivars commonplace. By 1900, Forbes was offering 550 named varieties. Lemoine had raised 470 himself before his death in 1911.
Many Penstemon in the wild grow in quite poor soils, porous and of low fertility. However these conditions are not a prerequisite for growing the wealth of hybrids seen today. Penstemon are quite tolerant of dry conditions, but richer soils are also well tolerated. Increasing the fertility and water will increase the lushness of Penstemons which is a benefit in terms of display, but will lead to lusher growth that is more prone to damage and will probably shorten the plants life. Alkalinity is very well tolerated.
The best way to keep your plants tidy is to give them a light trim before winter, leaving most of the stems as protection for the basal shoots. When the basal shoots grow away strongly in Spring and are 5-10cm long, trim away all the previous year’s growth.
Deadheading, principally in the form of the removal of whole flowering shoots, can be beneficial in prolonging flowering, especially on drier and poorer soils.
The Native Americans used Penstemon roots as a remedy against toothache.
The name Penstemon has a disputed origin. Penstemons were members of the Scrophulariaceae which are distinguished by having four fertile stamens. Penstemon have a fifth unfertile stamen. John Mitchell described Penstemon and passed this description to Linnaeus who subsequently published under Chelone pentstemon, adding the extra ‘t’. It was therefore assumed that it derived from ‘penta’ = five. However subsequent work suggests that it was originally meant as ‘paene’=almost. So it may be ‘five stamens’ or ‘almost a stamen’, take your pick.