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Let’s Talk Dirt for April 24

by Susan Simons

HUERFANO- You recall, we’re planting a perennial garden in this column, choosing only plants that will succeed year after year in gardens challenged by hot sun, low moisture, long winters, high winds, and so on.  Last week, we discussed Russian Sage and Moonshine Yarrow  and suggested that you prepare the bed now.

    This is the week to concentrate on penstemons. There are at least 270 kinds of penstemons, many native to our part of the country, but I am only going to recommend three for their hardiness.  Keep in mind that these three are of different heights. Although last’s weeks article recommended the tallest plants to be planted in this bed, we are not necessarily working through the bed by height.  Closer to planting time, we will sort by height, by bloom time, by color, by spread, and actually locate each plant in the garden.  Penstemons are among the most reliable dryland, high-plains perennials.

    ‘Prairie Jewel’  Penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus) grows 2-3 feet high and 2-3 feet wide.  It winters well, coming back early in spring. The foliage is a sturdy silver-green with a burgundy tinge.  It blooms May-July with showy lavender, pink, and white blooms. Plant two in a cluster.

    ‘Red Rocks’ Penstemon (Penstemon x ‘Red Rocks’) grows 2 feet high and 1 foot wide. Plant three in a cluster. This is a compact plant with bright red blooms during most of the summer.  ‘Pikes Peak’ Penstemon is a variety with purple flowers.

    Pineleaf Penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius) grows 12-15 inches high and wide.  Plant 3-5 in a row or cluster.  This low-growing plant looks like an evergreen shrub when not blooming and grows well near at the base of evergreen trees.  It is extremely hardy,  looking fuller each season. I would choose the yellow variety ‘Mersea Yellow’ to echo the yellow in the Moonshine Yarrow.

    These Penstemons like good draninge.  They do well in sandy soil.  If you have heavy clay, try to pick the spot with the best drainage. All three will attract hummingbirds. Pineleaf and ‘Red Rocks’ Penstemons will reseed, so leave some blooms.  Deadhead others to get more blooms later.

    So far, our garden has 3-4 feet as its top height, it has blooms in the blue, red and yellow ranges, and it has blooms from early spring to late summer.  We are aiming for at least three graduating heights and some blooms in all three seasons.