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Penstemon barbatus

Scarlet Bugler

Perennials, Flowers

PENSTEMON

There are some 250 species of penstemon. Most are native to the West, ranging from Canada into Mexico; some grow on the highest mountains, some in the desert, and others in forest glades, in foothills, on plains. A few are widely available, but most are sold only by specialists. Some of the perennials described here have woody-based stems, while others are herbaceous. Most species have narrowish, pointed leaves; those in basal foliage clump are larger, those on flower stems are smaller. Narrowly bell-shaped, lipped flowers (usually 3/4–1 1/2 in. long) are most commonly seen in bright reds and blues, but they also come in shades from soft pink through salmon and peach to deep rose, lilac, dark purple, white, and, rarely, yellow. Blossoms of some species attract hummingbirds.

Need fast drainage. Species in particular benefit from rock garden conditions. Usually short lived (3 or 4 years). Hybrids and selections tend to be easier to grow than wild species alongside regular garden plants; wild kinds may die quickly if given too-rich soil and too much water. In dry years or with restricted water, however, plants of wild species may thrive.

Penstemon barbatus

Needs some winter chill for best performance. Native to mountain regions from Colorado and Utah south to Mexico. Open, somewhat sprawling habit to 3 ft. or higher and 1 1/2 ft. wide. Bright green foliage. Long, loose spikes of red flowers over a long period, starting in late spring or midsummer. One of the best penstemons for humid-summer areas. Look for foot-tall hybrid ‘Elfin Pink’, with clear pink flowers; 2 1/2-ft. hybrid ‘Rose Elf’, with deep rose blooms; and 2-ft. variety ‘Schooley’s Yellow’, with soft lemon yellow flowers.

Penstemon barbatus ‘Blue Riding Hood’ (photo courtesy of Sunset Western Garden Collection)
Penstemon barbatus ‘Blue Riding Hood’ (photo courtesy of Sunset Western Garden Collection)

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‘Blue Riding Hood’

Masses of bright flowers on compact, sturdy plants set ‘Riding Hood’ penstemon apart. These easy-care perennials will fill your border, rock garden, or containers with color from summer through fall. Penstemon attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and make good cut flowers too. From the Sunset Western Garden Collection.

 

Penstemon barbatus ‘Hot Pink Riding Hood’ (photo courtesy of Sunset Western Garden Collection)
Penstemon barbatus ‘Hot Pink Riding Hood’ (photo courtesy of Sunset Western Garden Collection)

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‘Hot Pink Riding Hood’

Masses of bright flowers on compact, sturdy plants set ‘Riding Hood’ penstemon apart. These easy-care perennials will fill your border, rock garden, or containers with color from summer through fall. Penstemon attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and make good cut flowers too. From the Sunset Western Garden Collection.

 

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