He introduced me to concepts that were important to know if I were to have any success at gardening here. I learned about Middle Tennessee microclimates and about the unique wildflowers that grew only in the cedar glades. I was able to figure out that my garden was a xeric oak-hickory forest plant community with areas of shallow soil and limestone bedrock very near the surface. The shallow, nearly neutral clay soil was hard as concrete during our dry summers and wet and sticky during our rainy winters.
Conditions like that needed special plants. Plants that were waiting in the garden wings for me to notice. I mulled over what I learned from his book and found myself thinking: "Gail, your garden isn't a failure, but, trying to make it something that it isn't is the true failure. Take a look at what's already growing here. Appreciate and celebrate what you have."
|The Garden of Benign Neglect when it was at its best|
How lucky could a gardener get!
Penstemon calycosus is a fantastic plant for moist sunny garden beds or woodland edges. I like the lance-shaped, semi-glossy, medium green, finely saw-toothed edged foliage that is semi-evergreen in my garden. The snapdragon like flowers are produced on terminal panicles that bloom for at least a month, especially if the spring is cooler. Folks further north might have a longer bloom time than here.
|small carpenter bee|
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 it was found growing on wet weather seeps that are anything but well draining; so, it can take wet feet for a while. It has survived droughty summers and wet winters and blooms beautifully every spring. What it cannot tolerate is a xeric type garden.
|nectar guides and fuzzy "tongue" in each open bloom|
I will continue to mass it and let it romp to its heart's content. Yes, it does romp, but, not with abandon. This take care of itself, rough and tumble beauty is a successful self seeder. It seems to look good with almost any other wildflower or shrub. It's planted itself near Baptisias, Tradescantia, Zizia aurea, purple leaved Heucheras, bluestar, Blephilia subnuda, Aquilegia canadensis, Chasmanthium latifolium and Hypericum frondosum.
I've even found it growing in cracks and crevices. I like that in a plant, but if you don't just cut the seed heads off. Just don't call this native invasive, it's a highly successful seeder and very easy to transplant.
Seriously, what's not to like about a plant that has a long bloom season, is semi evergreen, turns a lovely burgundy in the winter, grows easily from seed, brings on the pollinators and makes you smile?
Common Name: beardtongue
Family: Plantaginaceae (they used to be in the fig wort family)
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Native Range: Eastern and southeastern United States
Native plant community: Mesic prairie, woodland, Savannah
Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 3.00 to 5.00 feet Spread: 1.50 to 2.00 feet
Plant structure: Leaves are bright green and arranged opposite from each other along the stems. Blades are lanceolate and glossy with serrate edges and pointed tips. The leaves are up to 5” long and 2” across.
Bloom Time: April to June
Bloom Description: Pale lavender to deep purple. Each tubular flower is about 1" long, with 2 upper lobes and 3 lower lobes; the lower lobes do not project outward any further than the upper lobes. On the outer surface, the corolla is light violet or purple and covered with fine hairs, while the inner surface is white. The lower inner surface of the corolla is smooth and lacks ridges. The anthers and style are inserted within the corolla. There are nectar guides for bees.
Sun: Full sun, part sun, shade, filtered shade
Soil: Plants tolerate clay, alkaline pH and heat.
Water: Dry to medium
Propagation: Florets are followed by small capsules containing many tiny seed that self seed wonderfully.
Suggested Use: Naturalize, Rain Garden, Wildlife Garden, Cut Flower Garden, or Meadow. Plants are also used as Butterfly Nectar Plants or as part of a Groundcover, Grouping or Mass Planting. Showy Blooms and is appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings, Rain Gardens, Shade Gardens and Perennial Borders.
Wildlife value: Long tongued bees, butterflies, sphinx moths and hummingbirds sip nectar from the flowers. Caterpillars of several moth species feed on the foliage.
Tolerate: Deer, Drought, Clay Soil, Dry Soil
Botanical history: John Mitchell, an 18th century American botanist, recorded the first botanical description of this plant genus; Carl Linnaeus included it in his landmark publication Species Plantarum in 1753. According to legend, Native Americans once used this plant as a versatile medicinal remedy. Its unusual common name comes from a fuzzy "tongue" in each open bloom, which gives a slight resemblance to a mouth and a tongue. The genus name "Penstemon" comes from Greek words for "five threads," referring to the stamens of each blossom.(source)
Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday. Thank you all for joining me as we celebrate and share our marvelous and beautiful wildflowers. I hope 2020 is the year we all plant more native wildflowers for the many critters that live in and visit our gardens. Let's be sure we celebrate them every day, not just WW. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not, you can still share them. Please leave a comment and add your name to Mr Linky so others can pop over to see your Wildflower Wednesday post.
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.