BRIAN KIDD: Beauties that will flower all the way up until the first frosts

Penstemon  Red Bartfaden -  Shutterstock
Penstemon Red Bartfaden - Shutterstock
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One of the very best herbaceous plants is the penstemon because it can flower from early summer right up until autumn and doesn’t have any nasty unusual pests or diseases.

There are than 150 different species and they are widespread in the wilds of North America and Mexico. There is just one species which originated in north east Asia.

Having told you about this, those species are not grown in our gardens because we grow plants called hybrids.

These hybrids have been bred over many years by very talented plant breeders and I believe they are unsung heroes.

When I started gardening we used to go on the train to Barnham Nurseries, near Chichester, where we would tell the nurseryman what we wanted.

We would follow him and he would dig out part of a clump of penstemon, cut back the stems, put it into our sack and we would plant it in the garden at home.

Lovely days with my mum and dad.

Things are very different now aren’t they? We are now so fortunate in having garden centres where everything is containerised and labelled with very useful tips on how to get the best out of the plants.

If you are thinking about buying a few for your garden it isn’t too late as there are bargain end-of-season plants in pots.

Choose the height needed, the colour and – most importantly – see that there are unopened flower buds as these will bloom right up until the weather becomes very cold at the end of November in our area.

There are some interesting things to think about when choosing colours. Pale colours, like whites and pinks, are excellent in shady areas where they brighten up the border.

Whites are excellent at the bottom of a garden because they make the garden look longer.

You may recall I have often written about this when writing about dahlias, a plant with the widest range of coloured flowers.

Penstemons are even better because there are five shades of blue – and blue is not a colour ever seen in dahlias.

Penstemon plants love a well-drained soil in sunshine or light shade. Dig over the area chosen and scatter 4 ozs of fish, blood and bone fertiliser over each square yard and fork this in.

Keep in mind these plants will come up every year for very many years and this feed will ensure they will be off to a good start.

Once the frosts kill off the top growth it is time to prune off the brown stems, but leave any strong shoots which are green as these will flower in early summer the following year if the winter weather is mild.

Penstemon are not like a lot of other herbaceous plants, wonderful for just three weeks.

They go on flowering from June right up until the severe frosts knock them back as long as we keep removing the dead flowers regularly.


Try to buy some colchicum bulbs for the grandchildren. Put one in an egg cup on their bedroom windowsill and in a short while beautiful water lily-like flowers will appear. Then plant them in the garden and they will naturalise, producing lovely blooms each autumn.