The pink flowers of Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) adds welcome color to a spring garden.

I adore flowers of all kinds, but I must confess that my favorite types look as if they belong to a cottage garden, which probably explains why I am wild about penstemons.

There are many different species of penstemon with varying colors, ranging from shades of pink to red with some white ones thrown in.  

Firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) adds vibrant color to a hummingbird demonstration garden.

All penstemons are native to the western half of North America where they thrive in well-drained soil.  Most grow in higher elevations, and all are drought tolerant.  For those of you who love to grow native plants that are low-maintenance, penstemons are a must-have.

The 4 – 6-foot flowering spikes of Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) lightly perfume the air of this desert landscape.

 I like plants that add a touch of drama to my garden and penstemon do a great job at that when they send up their flowering spikes that tower over their lower cluster of leaves.  Bees and hummingbirds love their flowers and it is fun to watch their antics as they sneak inside the flowers for nectar.

A row of rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius) adds lovely color to this area at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

While penstemon may look rather delicate, it is anything but as it can survive temperatures over 100 degrees and temperatures that dip anywhere from 15 degrees Fahrenheit all the way down to -30 degrees, depending on the species.  

The bloom time for penstemon depends on the species as well as the climate they grow in.  For desert dwellers like me, most bloom in late winter into spring.  Each year, I eagerly await the appearance of the first unfolding flowering spikes of my firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)  to emerge in January.

In my garden, Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) is another favorite of mine in the garden, and its flowers begin to open in late February.  This year, I am growing pineleaf penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius), which is a new one for me and I am curious to see how it will do.  Another penstemon that I am anxious to try is rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius), which blooms spring through fall.  Lastly, I have added Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) to my garden.  I used to grow it years ago and was happy to incorporate it back into my landscape.

It’s important to note that penstemon grows best when grown in the western half of North America.  The season in which they bloom can vary depending on the USDA zone.  In my zone 9 garden, I begin to appear in January and last through spring. For those who live in colder climates, penstemon will bloom later in spring or even begin flowering in summer.  However, no matter when they bloom, penstemon are sure to add beauty to the landscape with a touch of drama.

**Do you have a favorite 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?

 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.  

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?