• Penstemons, a perfect foothill flower

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

    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.