Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bumbles Love Penstemon

....and so do I!

Penstemon calycosus formerly known as X!
The infamous Penstemon X is in bloom.  Long time Clay and Limestone friends  have already met X and heard the story.  But, if they don't mind I would like to share it with you now. 
Bumbles dart in and out and lucky is the gardener who can snap a photo or two
"Many years before Clay and Limestone, this sloped land was a rocky forest of native trees, shrubs, perennials and ephemerals. Fifty years ago a developer's bulldozers cut streets through the woodland. They built brick houses that had deep backyards and grassy front yards. They left a few trees, but took out the understory and planted grass, so that boys and girls could play baseball, kickball and reach for the sky on their backyard swings. The grass struggled, but, shagbark hickories, elms, oaks, junipers and rough leaved dogwoods kicked butt and thrived."
The best shot is often from the back when they aren't in movement!
So did the wildflowers.

 Blue-eyed grass, Western Daisy,  Downy Mint,  False Garlic and sedges were living in the lawn; trout-lily,  Dutchman's Breeches and trilliums were hiding under the shrubs; and,  penstemon grew with abandon on the mossy wet seep and in the dry shade. (Never Fail Wildflowers)

The penstemon was so charming and delightful that we became fast friends.  Identifying him was not easy. My go to guy for all things Middle Tennessee and Central South listed only two penstemons and neither description fit my sweet lilac flower.  So,  I  still call him X, although, these days he's much more formal and goes by his given name P calycosus.  (Thank you Terri Barnes of GroWild for helping me id  X way back when xo.)

Bumbles see the nectar lines and crawl right in!
This plant is a trooper and deserves to be showcased in more gardens. Penstemon calycosus is a fantastic plant for  garden beds or woodland edges.  It's a plant I would love to see showcased in more gardens. Even gardens that are not necessarily wildflower gardens.   

It's a disease resistant plant that grows in almost any conditions~The literature says it's  partial to full sun and moist, well-drained to dry soils, but, folks,  remember,  that X was  found growing on wet weather seeps that are anything but well draining.  It has survived droughty summers and wetter winters and blooms beautifully every spring. Plant it with  purple leaved heucheras (they often like the same conditions), bluestar or like me, let it romp to its heart's content.

Peek-a-boo, I see you.
I like the lance-shaped, semi-glossy, medium green,  finely saw-toothed edged foliage that is evergreen in my garden.  The snapdragon like  flowers that are produced on terminal panicles that bloom for a long time are beautiful.

But, seeing all the Bumbles is the real treat!


Go here for where Penstemon X occurs naturally 

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone." She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Love that penstemon, will add it to my list.

  2. Wonderful images to tell the story of *X*, dear Gail. I loved following along from the woodland to the houses being built. Our Penstemons are highly favored by the pollinators right now, such easy peasy plants to grow. Every garden needs some.

    1. Thank you...I totally agree and have several cultivars that I couldnot do without.xoxo

  3. These photos are magazine worthy my dear Gail.

  4. your pics are amazing! so wonderful :)

  5. Mine hasn't reproduced yet but it is blooming beautifully.

  6. Lovely! Penstemons are great to try in our gardens, whether they're 'our' natives or from a bit further afield.

    1. I have several cultivars and non-native s that I also adore! They are wonderful plants.

  7. I love my Penstemon too but they're weeks away from blooming here in Oregon :-(
    They'll be here soon though and I think they are fantastic plants.

  8. The bees look really happy in your garden! Those pensetemons are very lovely - more delicate looking than others I've seen.

  9. I wonder if that beauty would be happy in my garden. I don't think it grows here but oh, how, I'd love to try!


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson