28 May 2017

Blue Collar

This is the first year the penstemon is blooming with any kind of presence. Say hello to Rocky Mountain Blue -- and I am proud to say that I started this perennial from seed in 2015. Again, this was one of the seeds I obtained from the annual February seed exchange that I have been attending but will skip in the future.

I took loving care of the beadtongue (who thought up that name) and placed it in a prime spot that was regularly mulched, and was in full sun. During the first summer, the 5 plants stayed healthy and vigorous, although no flowers appeared. No pests appeared on them, either.

Last year, the five plants produced one flower spike -- a very electric blue. The slight shades of purple around the edges of the more mature petals gave it an iridescent appearance in the sun. But only one flower spike? The blooms also are clustered along one side of the stalk.

I researched my western U.S. native to find that it prefers western conditions. This means rather dry, sandy,well-drained soils without a lot of rich organic material. Sort of a tough, blue collar kinda of plant. I have it in mulch in rather rich soils. That is probably why the leaves were so healthy I thought.

I stopped fertilizing, and let it be. This year, about 20 spikes showed up on what now looks like one plant clump. It certainly does not look like the full dense photos in the garden catalogs. Time to divide already? Most blooms are gone now, but a few remain in time for me to finally get a new post up. One note: after the stalks are finished blooming, they tend to fall over.

The plant has an interesting history. It first appeared in the 1700s in publications, and was named pentstemon from "pent" and "stamen" for the unusual 5th stamen. Penstemon, native to North America and Asia, became very popular in Europe where many hybrids were bred. Sounds very similar to the history of the sunflower -- another North American native -- that was taken to Europe, hybridized, and made its way back to North American gardens. The name of this one, Rock Mountain, suggests it is a cultivar developed here.

I think this may be a candidate for the hell strip garden - dry, rather poor soils, and in need of blooms at this time before the coneflowers and rudbeckia. Do you think it would grow there?

For The Record:
  • Clay soil with & plenty of mulch and organic amendments
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • No serious pests/disease

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: nasturtium, phlox, poppies, rose, kniphophia, nicotiana,
    coreopsis, peony, geranium, marigold
  • Harvested: cilantro