These gorgeous border perennials will bring summer zing to your garden.
For sheer flower power and a sensational palette of colour, penstemon have it all. These long-flowered shrubby perennials will enliven and add quality to any planting, whether it’s cottage or country in style. They’re also attractive to bees so include a few in plantings for pollinators.
There are different types of penstemon from desert or alpine evergreen shrublets to the larger border types, producing upright stems, clothed in deciduous to semi-evergreen leaves from a woody rootstock. From summer through to autumn the stems are clothed in unscented, tubular flowers, often widely flared at the mouth and in every shade, except yellow. Originating from Mexico and central America, mainly from species such as P. hartwegii, P. gentianoides and P. campanulatus those we use in gardens are complex hybrids of these and other species, which rarely grown today. Concerted breeding over the last few years has raised the bar on the range and calibre of varieties. The 50-strong Pensham series from the late Edward Wilson who lived in Pensham, near Pershore, Worcestershire and newly released ‘Purple Perfection’ from Peter Moore from Hampshire. Others, such as ‘Hidcote Pink’ are well-tried and trusted introductions of many years, which can still compete with today’s best.
Border penstemons prefer moist, but well-drained soil in a sunny position, preferring it slightly damp to give their best. After stems have bloomed cut them out to encourage more to develop. Some varieties are hardier than others, but much depends on how well-drained the soil is and the severity of winter weather. In autumn leave spent stems and add a mulch to protect the rootstock. In late winter trim back stems to 10cm (4in) when new shoots start to appear. Take softwood cuttings from the base of the plant, or unflowered shoots in July and August.