• Penstemons, a perfect foothill flower

    by  • March 18, 2016 • CA natives, Plant Profiles • 9 Comments

    Beautiful Beard Tongue

    As I stroll through the garden, my attention is drawn to how well adapted Beard Tongue or Penstemons are for the Sierra Foothills!

    Whether, cultivated hybrids or CA Natives, they are perfectly easy to grow and the bloom is spectacular in your garden.  Scroll through the ones I have in my garden and see one I found up in the high country.  Deer and drought tolerant!

    First the California natives:

    These three natives, below, are available at Intermountain Nursery in Prather and are good for dry areas of your garden.  Scarlet Bugler is aptly named for the brilliant red and tall slender stalks.  Foothill Penstemon was one of the first I planted on a dry clay bank.  The iridescent turquoise-blue flowers bloom in May and June.

    Penstemon heterophyllus Foothill Penstemon

    Penstemon heterophyllus Foothill Penstemon


    Foothill Penstemon blooms in May and June

    Foothill Penstemon blooms in May and June


    Penstemon centranthifolius Scarlet Bugler

    Penstemon centranthifolius Scarlet Bugler


    Penstemon 'Scarlet Bugler'

    Penstemon ‘Scarlet Bugler’

    My absolute favorite native penstemon, Penstemon Margarita BOP

    Penstemon Margarita BOP around the edge of the meadow

    Penstemon Margarita BOP around the edge of the meadow

    Why it’s named BOP

    “Penstemon ‘Margarita BOP’ was a seedling that came up sometime in the early 1980’s. It is a hybrid between Penstemon heterophyllus andPenstemon laetus. Every year it would flower and be gorgeous, clear sky blue, fading to purple, at the bottom of our front porch. We’ve never watered it nor maintained it. Every year we talked about how beautiful, neat, clean it was. The bicycles, skateboards and dogs had run over it tens of times but it still looked good at the Bottom Of the Porch.”  Bert Wilson at Las Pilitas Nursery

    Penstemon Margarita BOP

    Penstemon Margarita BOP’s iridescent blue

    The Evergreen Hybrids

    Penstemon is one of our more spectacular native California plants that also can be found in nurseries as hybrids. Found in mountainous areas and their foothills, Penstemon thrives in most areas of the western United States. Also called Beard Tongue, the plant produces dozens of tubular flowers arranged on tall stalks.

    These are growing in my garden, where deer roam every day.

    Evergreen Penstemon 'Lavender Ruffles'

    Evergreen Penstemon ‘Lavender Ruffles’


    Penstemon 'Lavender Ruffles'

    Penstemon ‘Lavender Ruffles’


    Evergreen Penstemon 'Midnight'

    Evergreen Penstemon ‘Midnight’

    The only care these need are summer water and deadheading in Fall.


    Penstemon ‘Midnight’ flower stalk

    While some of the penstemons here die back in winter, most shown here are evergreen, and resistant to cold, heat and deer.  When you see how colorful and vibrant they are, you’ll agree that they are one of our best perennials of the Sierra foothills.

    Scarlet Penstemon and Baby's breath

    Scarlet Penstemon and Baby’s breath

    Penstemons combine well with other perennials with the same water needs and in a wildflower meadow like mine, below.

    Meadow flowers with perennial penstemons around edge

    Meadow flowers with perennial ‘Lavender Ruffles’ penstemons around edge


    Completely wild

    I’ve also include two completely wild varieties you may find in your neighborhood or on local drives.

    Mountain Pride Penstemon

    Mountain Pride Penstemon found near Whiskey Falls, in the high mountains


    Keckiella breviflora, Bush Beardtongue

    Keckiella breviflora, Bush Beardtongue found by my mailbox!



    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    9 Responses to Penstemons, a perfect foothill flower

    1. March 18, 2016 at 12:02 pm

      Amazing post, Sue. Really great. I’ve already sent a link to it to my neighbor who is trying to landscape a pretty large area that got scraped free of topsoil for a water tank. One of your plants said clay soil & dry, so that is PERFECT. =)

      Very exciting array from which to pick, and I find few places have information about our kinda gardening habitat, which is rife with challenges, but yours fits the bill perfectly. =)

      • Sue Langley
        March 18, 2016 at 3:50 pm

        Thanks! I’ve found that both the cultivated and natives do well in un-amended soil. With this large garden, I can’t afford to amend or fertilize, so when I notice that the deer pass right by this, my heart warms and I become downright affectionate towards it.
        It’s doubly nice because they are found in most all nurseries,…easy to find. They’re not as common as many plants,..I wonder why? 🙂

        • Susan Walter
          April 25, 2016 at 4:48 pm

          I have been looking for some natives to plant in dry areas of my 2.29 ac. property. I’ll definitely give Penstemon a try.

    2. March 20, 2016 at 7:06 am

      Scarlet Bugler – fantastic!

      • April 5, 2016 at 11:51 am

        A geographical difference? Over 35 years of gardening in deer country in the Sierra Foothills near Tahoe. The deer have destroyed (as opposed to browsed upon) all the hybrid penstemon.

        • Sue Langley
          April 5, 2016 at 7:01 pm

          Yes, possibly. I hear from those in different areas close by that their deer eat what mine don’t and vice versa My recommendations are a starting place. Deer are just trying to survive, not necessarily destroying anything,…it’s all in how you look at things. 🙂

          • April 5, 2016 at 8:08 pm

            I really enjoy the deer, and have for years, Sue. They wander through my garden and sample. No problem usually. But when a plant disappears totally, I call it destroyed. Perhaps I should call it “damaged beyond recognition”. Obviously a good meal. By the way, I have a mature Cistus (20 years old) that never blooms. The deer eat all the buds!

            • Susan Walter
              April 25, 2016 at 4:39 pm

              Interesting, the differences. I have three mature Cistus outside the fenced area that the deer don’t bother at all. They love my potted tulips that are right next to the house!

            • April 25, 2016 at 6:14 pm

              Yes, tulips are a special treat! Do you have dogs inside the fence? Just the scent of a dog, even one brought inside at night, may keep the deer in the outer fringes. Or this may be an example of regional differences.

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