Friday Fave Five (F3)

Penstomania! Part 1

I've been gardening in Santa Fe, New Mexico for the last 10 years, maybe more. Initially, it was more misses than hits. I'm from the South where there can be more rain in a day than there is in a whole year here. No kidding! One day it rained 14 inches in New Orleans! Lawns are so dense it feels like walking on a cushion.

Therefore, I didn't realize the intricacies of gardening in the high desert.  Not sure if it had to do with being a new gardener or if I hadn't learned to adapt to the aridity. When I first moved into my house, I would just dig a hole, add some gravel, plant, refill the hole, and water. No wonder my plants didn't do well. I tried planting a rose garden. That didn't work out at all. I finally stumbled upon products to amend the soil, which changed the gardening landscape for me (literally).

However, in the last few years, I started growing native plants, which have worked out better.  Many of them are xeric and don't require lots of water. Among my favorite native plants are penstemons (also known as beardtongues). My five favorite penstemon are:

Friday Fave Five (F3)
  1. Barbatus (Schooley's Coral) 
  2. Pseudospectabilis (Desert Beardtongue)
  3. Strictus (Rocky Mountain)
  4. Palmeri (Palmer's/Pink Wild Snapdragon)
  5. Digitalis (Husker Red)

Penstemon Barbatus (Schooley's Coral)
My favorite penstemon is Schooley's coral. It hasn't been long lived in my garden. I replaced three of them last year. Come back in the summer to see their amazing color!

Penstemon Pseudospectabilis (Desert Beardtongue)

I think I just like saying pseudospectabilis and find interest in how the leaves are variegated. They're my first penstemon to bloom.

Penstemon Strictus (Rocky Mountain)
Penstemon strictus (Rocky Mountain) are the easiest to grow and don't require lots of attention. They have reseeded themselves through two layers of landscape cloth and a couple of inches of gravel in the "patio" area of my yard. I always seem to be looking for friends who might be interested in taking a few off my hands. 

Penstemon Palmeri (Palmer's/Pink Wild Snapdragon)
The palmeri are tall and regal. I look forward to seeing them grow wild around Santa Fe. 
Unfortunately, the penstemon digitalis (Husker Red) did not come back this year. I bought three small plants at K-mart one year before I discovered local nurseries and had the resources to frequent them. Dr. Dale Lindgren at the University of Nebraska propagated them and they are named after the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Not sure if I will replant. They are not drought tolerant and require more water. 


  1. Xeriscaping is the way. I enjoyed seeing and reading the way you practice it. Here in Connecticut, my Xeriscaping includes mosses, which in these moist times, certainly are sustainable.


  2. Lee,

    Thank you! I wish we had some of the moisture this way. I still feel like a newbie in the Xeriscaping department because gardening is so different in Santa Fe.

  3. I haven't grown many penstemons yet, and have no idea why not--I do have the yellow-flowering version of pineleaf penstemon (pinifolius), which I LOVE. It doesn't bloom for long, but the foliage is beautiful all winter. I used to grow the Husker's Red in Vermont, and so assumed it was off limits in ABQ, although I could see Santa Fe being a nice compromise. And I can totally see the attraction of saying pseudospectablis!

  4. Stacy, I have extra Rocky Mountain penstemon if you want some. Just let me know.

  5. HOW DID I MISS THIS POST! Long live Penstemons! You should also try Dusty Penstemon, P. scrophulariaceae.

  6. I will check out the dusty rose penstemon. It's one that's not familiar to me.


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