Think Penstemon digitalis, and you automatically match it with cottage gardens. Think beardtongue, and matching with a dragon with facial hair issues is not a far stretch. Yet, these virginal beardtongues could sit happily in most garden designs – and still not scare the kids.
Penstemons were an annual fixture in my garden for many years. They were a delight with their tall spires and trumpet-like inflorescences (flowers). Watching them dance gently upon the breath of a warm summer breeze somehow reminded me that life was alright. They were dainty. Tall. So elegantly dainty.
The problem with my penstemon was the year I decided NOT to grow them. Then, like a bipolar junkie they turned on me and began self-seeding with abandon. Each year, I thought I’d curtailed their growth and each spring they would bounce back up in another fitful act of revenge. Today, I no longer have penstemons in my garden, and I no longer have them sprouting through my garden beds, but I miss them. My cottage garden feels somewhat incomplete.
Growing Penstemon Digitalis
My garden has missed them way too much. So, I’ve decided to plant some Penstemon digitalis. I’m not ignoring their self-seeding wanton ways, I’m just better prepared. This time ’round they will not be the feature of the garden but a pleasant focal point. They’ll compete with the Delphiniums, Foxgloves, the towering Stocks and the perennial cottage plants. No more will they dictate their growing conditions. It is I who will determine where and when.
As an annual, Penstemon digitalis works great, but its perennial nature is more highly regarded. They prefer free-draining, loamy soil, a satisfactory reward of organic fertiliser (blood & bone is best) and moderate watering. Once this has been achieved, your task is to sit back and enjoy the spires of flowers dance amidst their garden buddies.
Types of Penstemon Digitalis
There’s literally hundreds of types to choose from and finding something a little different will certainly set your garden apart. Here’s a few of the more common varieties going around at the moment.
- Husker Red
- Red Riding Hood
- Gold Foil
White-Pink flowers that bob above a clump of purple-green foliage. The flowers emanate from a red-pink cloak.
As the name suggests this variety hosts an abundance of vermilion flowers on green stems. Delightful flush for any garden that won’t scorch your retina.
Penstemon digitalis “Gold Foil” is all about the foliage. Sure, those little white flowers adorn this seasoned eye-popper but the leaf tone is amazing.
Dainty mauve-white flowers.
Deep violet flowers make a supreme statement in any garden lacking joie de vivre. If you’re tired of the boring virginal whites then this one is sure to set tongues wagging.
Naming a flower “Blackbeard” conjures thoughts of dark ivory, but that’s not the case with this variety. The stems and foliage are darker than your average penstemon but the flowers are an insipid mauve.
Growing Penstemon Digitalis From Seed
If you’re wondering why they propagate so profusely it’s because, according to this site, they produce more than 130,000 seeds to the ounce. The only way to stop it self-seeding is to deadhead your penstemons on a regular basis – good luck with that. Instead I will be attempting to do, smothering the rampant seedlings with very competitive companion plants.