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Penstemon palmeri

Scented Penstemon

Perennials

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 palmeri

Native to the mountains of the desert Southwest. Grows to 4–6 ft. tall and 2–3 ft. wide, with thick, grayish blue leaves. This is among the few scented penstemons, with flower stalks bearing fragrant light pink blossoms in early summer. Will bloom the first year from seed. Thrives in hot, dry conditions. Sandy or gravelly soil is essential.

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