Tag Archives: penstemon

Early June In The Garden

Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' (Beardtongue)

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue)

Having missed an end of May report, I am compelled to record some of the special garden joys of early June.

Recently Annette wondered about the white flower she was expecting on her Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’. I assured her these plants do have white flowers and promised to follow through with a planned post to show how these penstemon are looking in my own garden.

I planted Husker Red penstemon in the meditation circle as an evergreen choice for a section of the “wall.” It has thrived, reseeding freely, enabling me to establish new plantings throughout the borders and to pass along specimens to friends.

Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' (Beardtongue)

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue)

Other penstemon planted in the labyrinth at the same time have not fared as well. One of my favorite colors, this purple one is called Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’. Of a dozen or so plants only this one remains in the meditation circle, but last summer I was able to transplant a piece into the northern border.

Penstemon  mexicali 'Pike's Peak Purple' (Beardtongue)

Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue)

Penstemon x mexicali ‘Red Rocks’ was added last year and has done great this spring.

Penstemon x mexicali ‘Red Rocks’ (Red Rocks Penstemon)

Penstemon x mexicali ‘Red Rocks’ (Red Rocks Penstemon)

Bees love these penstemons. They also have been enjoying tradescantia, foxgloves, Verbena bonariensis, echinacea and recently blooming Blue Sky salvia.

Tradescantia (Spiderwort)

Tradescantia (Spiderwort)

Digitalis Foxlight 'Ruby Glow' PPAF (Ruby Glow Foxglove)

Digitalis Foxlight ‘Ruby Glow’ PPAF (Ruby Glow Foxglove)

Verbena bonariensis (Tall Verbena) with Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Verbena bonariensis (Tall Verbena) with Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Salvia uliginosa 'Blue Sky' (Bog sage)

Salvia uliginosa ‘Blue Sky’ (Bog sage)

Bees really love Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ear). It will soon need cutting back but I hate to when the bees are so enamored of it.

Stachys byzantina (Lamb's Ear)

Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ear)

I like Echinacea in early summer. The flowers are fresh and take on so many forms before finally opening their petals. In the background at right is the meditation circle with Husker Red penstemon blooming. I also planted Angelonia in white and purple for color throughout the summer.

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Here are more echinacea with explosions of pink flowers from Red Rocks Penstemon in the distance.

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

A pass-along dahlia overwintered successfully and began blooming this week. (Thank you Libby!)

Dahlia sp.

The dwarf oak leaf hydrangea has finally put on its first big floral display after taking several years to get established.

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers'  (Lil' Ruby dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea)

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’ (Lil’ Ruby dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea)

My favorite pass-along old-fashioned rose had a few new flowers this week. Unfortunately I spotted a Japanese beetle on one. Those haven’t been a problem in several years.

Old-fashioned Rose

Old-fashioned Rose

Three of five August Beauty gardenias survived near the northwest gate, where they were planted to provide a screen for the air conditioning units. It has taken them much longer than expected to grow but with the heavy rainfall this spring they finally look healthy and are blooming.

Gardenia jasminoides 'August Beauty'

Gardenia jasminoides ‘August Beauty’

And finally to close I leave you with some favorite photographs of a second purple gladiolus that opened this week. The sunlight coming in from behind made the centers of the flowers glow like fire.





In A Vase On Monday— Hydrangeas

In A Vase On Monday - Hydrangeas

In A Vase On Monday – Hydrangeas

Monday brings the chance to share cut flowers from the garden by joining in Cathy’s weekly challenge In A Vase On Monday.

Hydrangeas began blooming last week and I am thrilled. The flowers have a way to go before they are fully open but I could not wait. Hydrangea macrophylla generally bloom on old growth. In the previous two years late cold snaps ruined the buds, so this is the first promising display ever from these passalong shrubs.

Often arrangements of flowers require many more blooms than one would expect. I had to return to the garden to snip a few extra hydrangeas to complete the vase.

These flowers were so luxurious and satisfying to arrange.

In A Vase On Monday - Hydrangeas

In A Vase On Monday – Hydrangeas

Perhaps an odd use of concealer foliage, I first lay out a collar of pink achillea around the perimeter of the vase and then added the layer of leaves above. I chose Heuchera villosa ‘Big Top Bronze’ for its beautiful red coloring on the undersides of the leaves to complement the other pinks and reds in the arrangement.

Folded leaves of Heuchera villosa 'Big Top Bronze' reveal reddish underside

Folded leaves of Heuchera villosa ‘Big Top Bronze’ reveal reddish underside

Heuchera villosa 'Big Top Bronze' foliage with Hydrangeas

Heuchera villosa ‘Big Top Bronze’ foliage with Hydrangeas

Penstemons are also blooming this week and I used several colors as filler flowers. Husker Red has dark red foliage with white flowers and self-seeds generously. Pike’s Peak Purple is my favorite. Originally planted along the path of the meditation circle only one plant remains there. Last summer I managed to divide it and plant a piece in a section of the border, where it is blooming but not really thriving.  Red Rocks is the third penstemon, and as is often the case with plants named “red,” the bloom color is pink, not red. Red Rocks is blooming well though.

Center: Penstemon x mexicali 'Red Rocks', Penstemon mexicali 'Pike's Peak Purple', Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red'

Center: Penstemon x mexicali ‘Red Rocks’, Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’, Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’

Penstemon x mexicali 'Red Rocks' (Red Rocks Penstemon)

Penstemon x mexicali ‘Red Rocks’ (Red Rocks Penstemon)

Also featured in today’s vase are three stems of Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’. These large clusters of oak leaf hydrangea, which open white, should gradually turn pink and eventually darken to a rich dark rose. This has never happened. Instead the flowers turn brown and dry up before reaching that stage. Maybe there will be enough rain to keep the plant happy this year.

White clusters of Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers'

White clusters of Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’


Achillea filipendulina (Fern-leaf Yarrow)
Heuchera villosa ‘Big Top Bronze’ (Coral Bells) – foliage only
Hydrangea macrophylla (from Jayme, March, 2013)
Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’  (Lil’ Ruby dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea)
Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue)
Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue)
Penstemon x mexicali ‘Red Rocks’ (Red Rocks Penstemon)

Container Notes

I found a new ceramic vase at my neighborhood’s garage sale a few weeks ago. The selling point was its matching lid with holes to help secure the flowers, like a flower frog. The lid works but with limitations.

To begin this design I edged the container with a low soft border of Achillea filipendulina (Fern-leaf Yarrow). Supported by remnants of feathery foliage, the achillea stayed precisely where I put it.  But the taller, heavier hydrangeas were less cooperative. At the beginning the hydrangea stems had a lot of wiggle room in the openings, shifting around and adjusting as I inserted other flowers.

Eventually I managed but this arrangement might have been easier with a stronger base of Oasis or another anchoring system. The lid does lift up easily to add fresh water.

Vase lid with holes

Achillea filipendulina inserted into holes of vase lid

This view shows how the initial edging of achillea and heuchera leaves support the hydrangeas in the arrangement.

In A Vase On Monday - Hydrangeas

In A Vase On Monday – Hydrangeas

Hydrangea Color Notes

The pink color of my mophead hydrangea is surprising. I grew up in an area where hydrangeas were always blue. I have never had the soil tested here but there are plenty of pines in the neighborhood so I had assumed the soil was acidic. When Jayme gave me the plants, I think there were 2 or 3 blue flowers the first year, 2013; 1 or 2 small pale blue ones in 2014; 1 or 2 small white ones, 2015. So the flower color has been transitioning as the plants grew and became established.

Hydrangea macrophylla

Hydrangea macrophylla

For blue flowers hydrangeas require acidic soil (pH 5.5 or lower) and for pink, neutral to alkaline (pH 6.5 and higher).  To change pink to blue flowers, applying aluminum sulfate to lower the pH and add aluminum to the soil is recommended.

Whew! The End

You deserve a medal if you managed to read this far. Thanks for stopping by.

And as always, thanks to Cathy for hosting this weekly flower obsession. Visit her at Rambling In The Garden to discover what she and other gardeners are placing In A Vase On Monday.

Overhead view of Hydrangeas

Overhead view of Hydrangeas

A Hint Of Winter

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

Frosty patterns on Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

It was cold during the night and frost was heavy on the ground when I entered the main garden early this morning. Icy formations accentuated leaf shapes and stem structures, lending elevated status to the humble remnants of the garden season just past.

In the meditation circle the frost’s silvery-white seemed to enhance the colors of the plants.

Meditation Circle

Meditation Circle

The textural contrast between hard red stepping stones of the path and soft mounds of thyme was made stronger by the thyme’s frosty coating.

Thyme in Meditation Circle

Thyme in Meditation Circle

The weather is warming again for the weekend and into next week high temperatures will be in the sixties, but today there was a hint of winter.

Veronica spicata 'Pink Goblin' (Speedwell)

Veronica spicata ‘Pink Goblin’ (Speedwell)

Last night the sky was clear for the annual Geminid meteor shower.  Despite street lamps and traffic headlights in our neighborhood we were able to watch meteors streaking through the sky. Awesome!

Early October Garden

Days of cool rain marked the year’s transition from September to October. The harvest moon remained hidden behind deep clouds.

Yesterday, temperatures and humidity rose dramatically. This afternoon the sun broke through the clouds lifting the temperature to 86F, quite a change from highs in the mid-sixties at the weekend.

Certain signs of autumn belie today’s warm weather. Berries now adorn the Flowering Dogwood, whose leaves had already browned in July’s extended dry spell.

Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood)

A windblown spire of Salvia uliginosa ‘Blue Sky’ (Bog sage) rests against of Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’ Autumn Joy (Stonecrop). The Salvia’s pink calyx reflects the ruddy, rusty hue of the flowering Stonecrop.

Salvia uliginosa ‘Blue Sky’ (Bog sage) and Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’ Autumn Joy (Stonecrop)

A multicolored flower petal of ‘Blue Sky’ Salvia sits suspended in a spider’s complex world.

‘Blue Sky’ Flower In Spider’s Web

The burgundy Chrysanthemum in the background has bloomed most of the summer and now complements the rose-colored wisps of fall-blooming Muhlenbergia capillaris (Pink Muhly Grass). In the foreground stands a spent stalk of Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage).

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage), Chrysanthemum, Muhlenbergia capillaris (Pink Muhly Grass)

Blue-violet Ageratum brightens a dark corner of the garden.


Helianthus angustifolius (Swamp Sunflower), became very aggressive and was theoretically removed from the garden a few years ago. Unaware of its banished status, it displays brilliant yellow blossoms annually.

Helianthus angustifolius (Swamp Sunflower)

Helianthus angustifolius (Swamp Sunflower)

The annual, Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon), has bloomed throughout the summer among the stepping stones of the meditation circle.

Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon)

The meditation circle itself is soggy this week and needs attention.

Pine-bark mulch now sits in drifts, having been swept across the stone paths during the recent heavy rainfalls.

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue) still performs satisfactorily, while generous green mounds of Thyme surpass expectations.

Unfortunately other evergreen perennials that were chosen specifically for their drought-tolerance, Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (Candytuft) and ‘Pikes Peak Purple’ Penstemon (Beardtongue), are brown and may not recover. ‘Purity’ was beautiful all winter and spring and ‘Pikes Peak Purple’ was lovely in spring, but both choices will need to be reevaluated for long-term performance.

Thyme For Meditation

Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme)

Thyme in the meditation circle is green and healthy. After a year of growth it has gently spread, helping to soften the path of stepping stones. I am not completely convinced the trays were correctly labeled when I purchased these plants last year, but they were marked Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme). This thyme is not fragrant at all, but I must have thought with “citriodorus” in the name, it would be become fragrant eventually!

Dianthus and Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme) Along Meditation Path

Drought-tolerant plants were selected for this labyrinth and some that performed great last summer may be staying too wet this summer. A few heavy downpours knocked over plants several weeks ago, blocking many of the paths. Yesterday was clean-up time.  I sheared away lots of Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue) and Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon) to open up the stepping stones.

While some of the Pike’s Peak are still blooming, many are brown and look like they may not even survive. Similarly the center planting of Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (Candytuft) has died back significantly. Iberis bloomed from December to May this year and maybe just needs a rest. It may revive in the fall, but at this point last August, the Candytuft was lush and healthy-looking.

Meditation Circle


I realize the fence along back of the Western border looks awfully bright. While a new ‘Carolina Sapphire’ Cypress gets established, a mix of annuals were supposed to fill the void and provide vibrant summer color along the back fence.  The seeds did poorly though, giving just one small group of zinnias.  The cypress is growing fine though.

During a few weeks of drought and extreme temperatures in July, the garden had quickly turned brown and dried up. Convinced the garden was finished until September, I turned my attention elsewhere. Then something interesting happened. Rains returned and the garden responded. Now the garden overall is probably the greenest it has been in August for years. The last few summers have been so discouragingly dry, I failed to recognize and appreciate that this summer was different. 

So yesterday I began to make amends. I trimmed back some Shasta Daisies, Echinacea and a few other things to make them tidier and to encourage re-blooming. I did save a few cone heads for the American Goldfinches. There is still a lot of clean-up to do, but now I am much more motivated to make plans for autumn plantings.

Though an annual, the Angelonia should provide color into October.

Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon)

A Garden Journal To Conclude July

Cleome (Spider Flower)

Desiccation was the word that best described the garden at the end of June, but as July ends there are some signs of verdancy. July was a difficult month for the already stressed perennials and shrubs, but some decent rains have had a visible restorative effect on many of them. Even the lawn now shows less brown and more green.

While the garden seems willing at this point to make the effort to improve, this gardener is finding excuses. The garden could really use some serious maintenance but as usual, it is getting very little attention as the summer goes along. Among the many tasks that need tackling are applying mulch garden-wide and dividing the irises. I have done some weeding, deadheading and trimming, but not nearly enough to improve the overall effect—there is so much more left to be done. Another week though before I can get some time to concentrate on it.

Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon)

In the meditation garden Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon) lies sprawling across the labyrinth’s path, knocked over by recent poundings of rain.

Last summer was the first time I had planted Angelonia, an annual, and it was outstanding well into October.  This year it has not been quite as spectacular, but it is finally beginning to bloom more profusely. The bees really enjoy the flowers.

Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon)

Garden View With Meditation Circle

The meditation circle is normally a very low-maintenance feature, but a heavy rain this past weekend also washed away much of the pine bark mulch, covering many of the stepping stones.

Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme)

The section of Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme) is mostly green, but in some poorly draining areas it is starting to show some brown spots from excess standing water during the storm.

Perhaps the thyme will bloom yet. There are a few faint colored puffs on it that, when one looks close, are seen to be little lavender flowers.

Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (Candytuft)

Once the star performer of the labyrinth, Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (Candytuft) is losing its shine.

Many of the mounds are severely stressed. This time last year it was holding up beautifully and was quite green.

The candytuft bloomed from December to May this year and perhaps needs a rest. Maybe some compost should be added for nutrition.

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue)

‘Husker Red’ is still working well in the meditation circle. Curiously the leaves of the ones planted last year are mostly green, with little or none of this luscious dark red colored-foliage found in these that were added this year. The coral Dianthus lining the entrance makes a nice pairing.

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage)

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage) has flopped over but is blooming now and should last well into autumn.

Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ and Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’

Encouraged by recent rains, Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ now has a few new blossoms. Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’ is in full bloom to the delight of many insects. The stalks of this Rudbeckia seem very sturdy but, like those of so many items in this garden, they would benefit from staking.

Cleome (Spider Flower)

Cleome has flowered well in one spot and poorly in another.

In early July there was a heartbreaking loss of a Crape Myrtle in the front yard from a freak wind storm.

The same storm brought down a pine into the garden, obliterating a Buddleia davidii and some other plants in an area along the back fence, an area I have been actively trying to invigorate.

‘Carolina Sapphire’ Arizona Cypress


Actually there are several large gaps along the back fence. In the northwestern corner a ‘Carolina Sapphire’ Arizona Cypress was planted earlier this year to replace the eleven-year old one we lost last summer. This is a fast-growing tree that will fill this area in a few years. Meanwhile I can tell it has grown quite a bit.

While waiting for the ‘Carolina Sapphire’ to mature I envision this corner overflowing with cutting flowers in the summer, but my efforts have been small.

Zinnias were planted from seeds, but thwarted by extreme temperatures, they remain small and insignificant. I think the birds must have eaten most of the seeds.  This is a rather poor showing.

Transplants of cleome did not survive here.

Also Gladioli planted in this same area flopped over after their first exposure to wind, so they did nothing to make the garden look nice long-term, but their blooms provided enjoyment in cut-flower arrangements.

So, there are many openings and opportunities around the garden at this time. Although I am not doing much work in the garden this summer, I am thinking and planning. I am optimistic the garden will be fun again next Spring. And, while there are no grand views, no wide vistas in the garden right now, it is surprising to me how many individual plants are providing some interest. It seems much better than in years past.

Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm)

Meanwhile birds, wasps, bees and other insects do not seem to mind the garden’s disarray, as they feast on nectar and seeds. The yellow of American Goldfinches brightens the garden as these tiny birds feed on various plants—they especially seem to appreciate the Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower).

Hummingbirds regularly visit Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm), which is no longer lush and spectacular but is still in bloom.

Leucanthemum x superbum (Shasta Daisy)

And fresh dew on Shasta Daisies is still a remarkable thing.


With two days to go this hot July stopped short of setting a local record for the number of consecutive days above 90 degrees, when the temperature reached a mere 89 degrees yesterday. Precipitation was 0.5 inches above normal for the month (actual month total was 4.64; normal month total, 4.04). Three heavy storms on the 21st, 22nd and 28th accounted for 3.31 inches of that.

Smiles and Starts

In the meditation circle this morning numerous bees were flitting in and out of the Penstemon  mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue). Watching them back out of the purple, bell-shaped flowers made me smile.

Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue)


one bee seemed to stumble awkwardly

and fall a foot or so

from the top of the blossom

it had targeted.

The bee struggled for a moment but then regained control and flew away, thus escaping the trap set by this ominous-looking spider.

Argiope aurantia (black and yellow garden spider)

I had not noticed the spider myself and was startled to realize its presence.

I think this is a Argiope  aurantia (black and yellow garden spider), a common garden spider in the U.S. and not harmful to humans.  This spider incorporates a dense white zigzag in the center of its orb web.  This zigzag feature is a stabilimentum, the purpose of which is not confirmed, but one possibility is to warn birds away from the web. Interestingly stabilimenta are only found in spiders that are active during the day.