Lesser Known Plants To Try In Your Garden – Snapdragon Penstemon

Snapdragon Penstemon

If you find yourself driving through the neighborhood, chances are that you will see an abundance of particular types of plants.  

However, what you often do not see are a wide variety of plants.  Instead, you usually see the same kind of plants repeated from landscape to landscape.

For example, in the larger Phoenix metro area, many homes have at least one of the following plants, if not more:

Dwarf Oleander



Texas Sage

Now I have nothing against these particular plants (except for the fact that Oleanders are poisonous).  All are easy to grow, look beautiful when in flower and thrive in our dry desert climate.

What happens though is that there tends to be an overabundance of these plants.  Because of this, landscapes can tend to look a little boring because they look like their neighbor.

Have you ever thought about trying some different plants to spice things up in your garden?  Now I am not suggesting that you pull out all of your Oleanders, Lantana, Bougainvillea or Texas Sage.  I actually have the last three in my garden.  What I am suggesting is adding or replacing just a few plants with some lesser known plants.

Over the next few weeks I will profile a lesser known plant that I think that you should try out in your garden.  (Okay, this is where I refer you to my disclaimer at the bottom of this page – my recommendations are meant for those who live in a climate similar to my desert garden’s zone 9a).

Are you ready?

Snapdragon Penstemon

Let me introduce you to Snapdragon Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) also known as Palmer’s Penstemon I saw the Penstemon, pictured above, while driving to an appointment in Cave Creek, AZ.  It was so beautiful that it stopped me in my tracks and I rushed out to take a picture.

The first time that I had seen a Snapdragon Penstemon was while working for a golf course back in the 90’s.  It had been planted around the golf course which had a desert plant palette.  

Snapdragon Penstemon

Even though this Penstemon has been planted in a desert-themed garden, it will do just as well and look just as great in a more traditional front yard landscape.

When in bloom, it can reach heights of 6 ft. and sometimes higher.  In my experience growing Snapdragon Penstemon, they tend to bloom a little later in spring then the better known Firecracker and Parry’s Penstemons.  Flowering can extend into early summer depending on the location.

Maintenance is super easy…..cut of the flowering spikes when the flowers fade.  It is drought tolerant, but does best with a little supplemental water in dry, desert climates AND it thrives in our desert soil without amendments.  It is native to Arizona and New Mexico, which probably explains why it thrives in our conditions.

The flowers have a lovely, light fragrance and attract hummingbirds.  Published literature states that it will grow in zones 4 – 9, but does not do well in humid locations or wet soils.

I do hope you decide to try out this lesser known plant.  Just plant it in full sun, give it a little water from time to time and watch it take off.  It can be a little difficult to find in your local nursery unless you visit a specialty nursery or a plant sale at your botanic garden.  But you can find them at High Country Gardens where they will ship them to you.

Who knows?  Maybe someone will stop in their tracks when they see this beautiful plant growing in your garden 🙂


It is hard to believe that Thanksgiving is less then a week away.

We will be enjoying two Thanksgiving celebrations this year.  The first one, I will be hosting for my husband’s family.  

The second celebration will be at my sister’s house with my family.

How about you?  

What will you be doing for Thanksgiving?  

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
10 replies
  1. Curbstone Valley Farm
    Curbstone Valley Farm says:

    Very nice, although with our coastal fog here it probably wouldn't be happy in our garden. We do have another Penstemon here though that's native, Penstemon heterophyllus, that does well, but I prefer the pink of your snapdragon variety to our blue one.

  2. Desert Dweller
    Desert Dweller says:

    Great choice! NMDOT includes this and Calif. Poppy in their seed mixes roadside revegetation in Abq. The poppy rarely lasts, while P. palmeri never fails to impress each May, freely reseeding.

    And yes, it gets TALL!

  3. Esther Montgomery
    Esther Montgomery says:

    I know what you mean about being put off plants if they are 'over done', however lovely they are.

    I remember seeing Lavatera for the first time. I was impressed. Then I saw another and another and . . . ended up thinking them rather cheap and common. Shame really. Interesting too that one rebels less against a superfluity of smaller plants – here acres of snowdrops and bluebells are always wonderful, however many people grow them.


    P.S. I like your disclaimer. The idea of people trying to grow desert plants in the Arctic appeals to me.

  4. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Yes Noelle, even if we dont have that, they are surely beautiful instead of the common plants you mentioned which i am very familiar about, e.g.Oleanders, lantana, bougainvillea. Those long spikes are very delightful, which reminds me of lupins only seen in temperate countries.

  5. Gregarious Hermit
    Gregarious Hermit says:

    I also try and "turn on" clients to new plants and get them to consider something besides the ubiquitous ones. Hopefully, we'll get people to consider using something other than what they already see. I'm on a big Justicia californica kick. Such great winter color!

  6. Carol
    Carol says:

    What a lovely bloom Noelle and I would imagine great for bees and hummers too. Certainly a good choice to add uniqueness to any garden.

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