Species Tulips, Hardy Little Gems

by Diane Engles, HAS Trustee

Tulipa Kaufmanniana Ancilla
Photo Credit:  Thesupermat / CC BY-SA

When we think of tulips, we tend to think of the tall, showy Dutch hybrids. However, the earliest known tulips were discovered growing wild in central Asia and Turkey.  These showy little natives were introduced into Holland in the 16th century, and careful breeding over generations has produced the hybrids that we see on the market today.

The species tulips deserve their own place in our gardens. They are extremely hardy — some to zone 2; they naturalize well, and open wider than the hybrids to allow pollinators to collect their nectar and pollen. They are shorter than the hybrids and they look great in the front of borders, as naturalized drifts, or in rock gardens.

Species tulips have a wide range of colors and many are fragrant; some have multiple blooms per stem. A bonus with some of them is foliage that is beautifully mottled and striped, lending interest when not in bloom. There are many species readily available including kaufmanniana, batallini, and tarda to name a few.

The Gregii tulip (Tulipa gregii) originated in Turkistan. Many cultivars have been produced since its introduction in 1872. Gregii tulips grow 8-12 inches tall and have beautiful mottled and striped foliage. Some have multiple flowers up to 4 inches wide per stem. When open in full sun they attract pollinators. Gregii tulips are are most effective planted in groups of 10-15 bulbs.   All are hardy to Zone 3.


Pinocchio Public Domain Photo

Pinocchio (Tulipa humilis ‘Pinocchio’has ivory white blooms marked with scarlet flames and a bronze heart. It blooms in early to mid spring and naturalizes readily increasing the show over the years. It grows 6-10 inches tall.


Red Riding Hood Photo Credit:  High Country Gardens

Red Riding Hood (Tulipa humilis ‘Red Riding Hood’) was introduced in 1953. Still very popular, it won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Merit in 1993.  Its purple mottled leaves are beautiful on their own. Red Riding Hood’s bright scarlet blooms reveal a small black heart when open. It grows 6-12 inches tall and blooms mid-season.


Tulip Toronto Photo Credit:  Denver Botanic Garden

Toronto is also award-winning and one of the most popular of all Greigii Tulips. It has multiple flowers on one stem featuring tangerine-red petals tinged bronze-green at their bases Toronto looks great underplanted with Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa luciliae).  It blooms mid-season.


Another species of note with many cultivars is Tulipa humilis, which hails from Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Iran, and the North Caucasus region of Russia. Its preferred habitat is rocky mountain slopes. Many cultivars are lilac and purple as is Persian Pearl.

Persian Pearl Photo Credit:  High Country Gardens

Persian Pearl (Tulipa humilis ‘Persian Pearl’) is diminutive growing only 4-6 inches tall. Its blossoms are showy purple-red with a yellow center. Persian Pearl naturalizes easily and is hardy to Zone 3. It blooms early to mid season.


Blue Eyed Tulip Photo Credit:  High Country Gardens

The Blue Eyed Tulip (Tulipa humilis ‘Alba Caerulea Oculata’) steps outside the purple zone featuring fragrant white blooms with blue eyes. It grows 6-8 inches tall and is hardy to Zone 3. It blooms early to mid season.





Finally I’ll mention Tulipa clusiana, the Lady Tulip. It is an Asian species native to Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the Western Himalayas. It is widely cultivated and has reportedly naturalized in parts of Europe, Greece and Turkey.

Lady Jane Photo Credit: Thomas Pusch / CC BY-SA

Lady Jane tulip (Tulipa cluisiana ‘Lady Jane’has blooms of rosy reddish-pink, edged in white; the flowers open to a white interior giving this variety a delightful candy cane look.  Lady Jane grows 12-14 inches tall, and blooms mid to late season. It is hardy to Zone 3.


Cynthia Open in the Sun Photo Credit:  Author

Cynthia (Tulipa cluisinana ‘Cynthia’)  has won the Royal Horticultural Society’s award of merit. Her exterior petals are red, edged in chartreuse and open to a chartreuse-yellow interior.  Cynthia grows 8-10 inches tall and is hardy to Zone 3.


These smaller species tulips are well worth adding to gardens large and small to provide beauty and food for pollinators in springtime.

Shop The HAS Fall Bulb Sale!

Where: HAS Cottage backyard, behind the fence — 224 Mesa Road

When:  Saturday September 19  
            9-12 Members Only, 12-3 Open to Everyone

HAS members receive 10% off $100 purchase!

We are holding our fall Bulb Sale Fundraiser in the Cottage Backyard. Shopping this sale will help support the gardens during this difficult time.
We have a selection of alliums with large globe shaped blooms and deer resistant daffodils.  We are also excited that our wholesaler has started carrying species tulips such as greggii and kaufmanniana.  We are offering 3 of these great naturalizers that look good in front of borders and in rock gardens.  

Let’s Stay Safe:

-Face masks are required
-Maintain 6-ft distance from others
-A limited number of people will be let in each section of the garden at a time to maintain social-distancing recommendations

-Pay with a check (preferred) or credit card at the event

Please browse list of bulbs below ahead of time, print, and mark your choices.


Ambassador    Zone 4, up to 4 feet tall,  $7 each

Gladiator    Zone 4 ,  3-4 feet tall,   $5 each 

Globemaster   Zone 4,  2-3 feet tall,  $7 each

Purple Sensation, Zone 3, 20-30″ tall,  deep violet purple, $1 each


Bantam   Zone 4, 18-20 inches tall,  mid season, $1.15 each

Blushing Lady   Zone 4, 16 inches tall, mid – late season, $1 each

Martinette   Zone 3, 14-16 inches tall,  mid season, 75 cents each

Poeticus recurvus   Zone 4, 6-18 inches tall, late season, $1 each

Red Devon  Zone 4, 16 inches tall, mid season, 75 cents each

Iris Reticulata

Katharine Hodgkin   Zone 5, 4-5 inches tall, early spring, 60 cents each


Pinocchio   Zone 3, 10 inches tall,  early-mid season, 75 cents each

 Red Riding Hood Zone 3  10 inches tall,  mid season, 75 cents each

Toronto   Zone 3, 12 inches tall, mid season, 75 cents each

Echinaceas Offer Easy Care Garden Beauty

by Diane Engles, HAS Trustee

White Echinacea with Eryingium
Photo Credit:  DIane Brunjes

Echinacea — bless you!  It does sort of sound like a sneeze, but Echinacea or coneflower routinely blesses our gardens with an easy to grow and hardy group of flowering perennials.  Echinacea has a long bloom season, is hardy, drought resistant, and is a pollinator magnet. If seed heads are left on, they will provide seeds for birds in fall and winter; goldfinches in particular love them. Echinaceas are also excellent cut flowers. Deer and other grazing animals will eat the young Echinacea plants but normally avoid mature plants, unless they are desperate.

Coneflowers are in the aster family and related to daises, asters, chrysanthemums, zinnias, and other members of this large family. There are nine species of coneflowers native to eastern and central North America. The most popular garden coneflower is the eastern purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Others in the genus are narrow-leaf coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia), pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Tennessee coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis) and  yellow coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa). All are deciduous herbaceous perennials, and all have a taproot except for Echinacea purpurea. They form a slowly expanding clump that may be divided every few years to maintain vigor.

The wild-type echinaceas are typically 2 ft wide and 3-4 ft tall. Modern hybrids have been selected for smaller stature with some as small as 1 ft high. In the wild, a single plant can live up to 40 years. In the garden, they are best when divided every 4 years. Most are hardy to at least Zone 4. They prefer full sun but can tolerate a little shade; too much will make them leggy and prone to flop over. Coneflowers are not picky about soil type but don’t tolerate wet or mucky conditions.

Echinacea also has medicinal uses, primarily derived from Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia. Native American Great Plains tribes have used Echinacea as a cure-all for over 400 years. These Native Americans introduced European settlers to the plant and they used it to treat many diseases including diphtheria and scarlet fever. Echinacea was once the most widely used plant remedy in the U.S. and Europe until the dawn of the pharmaceutical age when it fell out of favor. Over the last couple of decades, echinacea has once again become a popular herbal remedy.  It is thought to boost the immune system to help fight off illness such as colds, flu and infections although scientific studies have had mixed results.

Photo Credit: Denver Botanic Garden

Narrow leaf echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia subsp. angustifolia) is native to central Canada and the central U.S. It ranges from Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the north to Arizona, New Mexico,Texas, and Louisiana in the south. Its petals are more drooping than purple coneflower and are a paler color. An interesting fact about Narrow-leaved Coneflower is that, in 1805, Lewis and Clark sent Thomas Jefferson samples of it from Fort Mandan in what is now North Dakota. Narrow leaf coneflower grows about 2 ft high and up to 1.5 ft wide. It is hardy to zone 4.



Photo Credit: Oris2012 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) can grow up to 3 ft tall and 1-2 ft wide. Its elegant narrow pale purple petals droop gracefully from a large central cone. It blooms profusely from early to late summer and is a good cut or dried flower. Echinacea pallida looks great in beds, borders and prairie style gardens, combining beautifully with rudbeckias and blue flowering perennials such as geraniums and catmints. It is hardy to Zone 3.



Photo Credit:  Mike Kintgen

Tennessee Purple Coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis) was only the second plant to be put on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered List. The rapid expansion and development of the Nashville, Tennessee area and its suburbs in the mid to late twentieth century became an immediate threat to its habitat, which was limited to a 14 mile radius covering 3 counties in the area. A conservation plan was implemented and this coneflower now no longer needs protection. Plant Select®  has introduced it to celebrate its recovery. It holds its purple-pink petals erect and blooms from June to August. Growing to 2 ft tall and 18 inches wide, Tennessee purple coneflower is hardy to Zone 5.


Photo Credit: High Country Gardens

Yellow Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa) gets its paradoxical scientific name because it is the only yellow species. It is also known as Bush’s coneflower and Ozark coneflower. It is native to Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. Yellow Coneflower grows 2-3 ft tall and up to 1.5 ft wide with fragrance as a bonus. Its petals are narrow with a large coppery cone. Echinacea paradoxa is the species most often used to make some of the double flowered and brightly colored coneflower hybrids available today.  It combines well with the purple coneflowers and looks great in native plant gardens and naturalized areas. It is deer resistant and hardy to Zone 5.


Photo Credit: High Country Gardens

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is native to moist prairies, meadows and open woods of the central to southeastern United States. Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery calls it  “one of the finest native perennials in the U.S.”  Widely adaptable to different soils and drought tolerant once established, it is hardy in almost every state. Its daisy like flowers can reach 5 inches across, with slightly drooping petals and a brown central cone. Its fibrous root system makes it more amenable to dividing and transplanting than the tap rooted coneflowers. Purple coneflower grows 2-5 ft tall, 1-2 ft  wide and is hardy to Zone 3.

Purple coneflower has given rise to a huge number of cultivars and hybrids. (Hybrids are most often created by crossing with Echinacea paradoxa.)  For instance, Bluestone Perennials offers 31 different echinaceas. I’ll stick to some tried and true selections which are widely available, but searching for the cultivars and hybrids will turn up many single and double flowers with colors ranging from green, white, pink, to various shades of orange and red. Some are also fragrant. It is truly an amazing assortment.

The hybrids need richer soil and more moisture than the species. A breeder of hybrid echinaceas, Terra Nova Nurseries offers a tip for success with the hybrids. Pinch off the blooms their first season to force the plants to form a good root system to get them through the winter. That does requires discipline! Plants in quart- or gallon-size containers won’t need this treatment if their root systems have had a chance to grow to fill the pot. But if you’re working with plants in small, 2-4 inch pots, it’s best to pinch off the blooms or remove the bloom stem.


Much effort has been put into creating double flowered echinaceas. There are new hybrid creations coming to market constantly. They typically have a pompom or “mop” center surrounded by ray petals. I’ve included photos of a few of the multitude of hybrids available. They vary in height and come in a wide range of colors. One thing to keep in mind when Echinacea shopping is that the double varieties produce little or no nectar and are generally not useful as pollinator plants despite being very showy to us in the garden. Most are hardy to Zone 4.

Left to right: Hot papaya, PUFF®Vanilla, CARA MIA™Yellow,  Cone-Fection™ Butterfly Kisses
Photo Credits: Plant Delights Nursery, Terra Nova Nurseries, American Meadows


Two excellent purple echinacea cultivars are Magnus (Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’) and  PowWow® Wildberry (Echinacea Purpurea ‘PowWow® Wildberry’ ). Magnus is a cultivar from Europe that won the Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year award in 1998. This seed strain of our U.S. native was selected by Sweden’s Magnus Nilsson for its vibrant pinkish purple color and strongly horizontal petal formation. Magnus grows up to 4 ft tall and 18 inches wide. It is hardy to Zone 4. PowWow® Wildberry is shorter and has darker red-purple flowers. Growing to 20” tall and 16 inches wide, it will fit into the front of borders or in smaller gardens. It is hardy to Zone 5.

Left to Right:  Coneflower Magnus, Coneflower PowWow® Wildberry
Photo Credits:  Perennial Resource, High Country Gardens


Among the white cultivars and hybrids, PowWow® White (Echinacea purpurea ‘PAS702918’) is a very floriferous single. It sports pure white flowers with a golden yellow cone measuring 3-4 inches across with wide, overlapping, reflexed petals. It is a bit shorter than purple coneflower growing to 18-24 inches tall and 15-18 inches wide. It can be grown from seed. A taller cultivar that was introduced in 2004 is Fragrant Angel (Echinacea purpurea ‘Fragrant Angel’). It grows up to 30 inches tall and 2 feet wide. The sweetly fragrant blooms are up to 5 inches across with a double row of white petals and a coppery center cone. Both coneflowers are hardy to Zone 4.

Left to Right:  Echinacea PowWow® White, Echinacea Fragrant Angel
Photo Credits:  High Country GardensTerra Nova Nurseries


In the orange and red category, Tiki Torch (Echinacea ‘Tiki Torch’) and Tomato Soup (Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’)  stand out. Tomato Soup is a red hybrid single introduced in 2009 by Terra Nova Nurseries — a color break for the genus. The vigorous clumps are topped all summer with large 5  inch flowers of bright tomato red. It Grows up to 32 inches tall and nearly as wide. High Country Gardens states that it does require “perfect” growing conditions to do well in the western U.S. Tiki Torch was introduced in 2004 by Terra Nova Nurseries and has proven garden worthy over the years. Its 5 inch pumpkin-orange flowers are borne on vigorous plants that stand tall without staking. It can grow to 3 ft tall and 2 ft wide.  Both these coneflowers are hardy to Zone 4.

Left to Right:  Tomato Soup, Tiki Torch
Photo Credits:  Terra Nova Nurseries


Photo Credit: High Country Gardens

A standout yellow cultivar which does well out west is from the Sombrero® Series. Echinacea Sombrero® Sandy Yellow (Echinacea purpurea ‘Balsomselo’) is vigorous and fragrant with sandy-yellow flowers that hold their color in full sun. It is shorter in stature, growing to 22 inches tall and wide and is hardy to Zone 4.





Photo Credit:  American Meadows

A uniquely colored purpurea cultivar is Echinacea Green Twister (Echinacea purpurea ‘Green Twister’). The outer edge of the petals are yellow-green and bleed into a pale, lilac-pink in the center, surrounding a bronze cone. Green Twister grows to 3 ft tall and 2 ft wide. This cultivar may be started from seed and is hardy to zone 3. We offered Green Twister at our 2019 Gigantic Plant Sale and it sold out quickly.




Photo Credit: High Country Gardens

To end our tour of the echinaceas, we’ll look at an award winning hybrid that provides you with a ready made mix of colors — Cheyenne Spirit (Echinacea x hybrida ‘Cheyenne Spirit’). It will bloom the first year from seed and produces a mix of flower colors in red, orange, purple, scarlet, cream, yellow and white. Cheyenne Spirit won the 2013 AAS (All-America Selections®) award, Europe’s FleuroSelect Gold Medal award for garden performance, and has gained in popularity ever since. The plants grow up to 30 inches tall and 20 inches wide. Cheyenne Spirit is hardy to Zone 4.


For further reading, I recommend Dennis Carey and Tony Avent’s comprehensive article on Echinacea which was published in 2012. It covers cultivation, taxonomy, history and has detailed information on many cultivars and hybrids.  You can read it here: https://www.plantdelights.com/blogs/articles/purple-coneflower-echinacea-purpurea-plant

Plant Select® details the conservation of Tennessee Conflower here: https://plantselect.org/plantstories/a-conservation-success-story-tennessee-purple-coneflower/

Colorado’s Apple Heritage

by Diane Engles, HAS Trustee

Old Apple Orchard in Bloom
Photo Credit:  123rf.com

Recently I came across an article about the rediscovery of the Colorado Orange apple, which was thought to be extinct. I was surprised to find out that in the late 1800’s there was a successful apple industry both along the Front Range including Fremont County and in the Western part of the state.

Though they were told that orchards wouldn’t grow in Colorado due to the high elevations, settlers in 1800’s experimented with different growing techniques and varieties and created a thriving apple industry.  In 1922, there were 48,630 apple trees in Montezuma County, and at least 50 different varieties of the fruit. The apples varied widely in color and flavor and keeping quality. Some apples were bred for cider-making as well as eating. These apples were called “spitters” due to tannins that made them unpalatable, but excellent for making hard cider. Contrast that number with the 10-15 varieties carried by local nurseries today.

Fremont County also had a thriving apple industry which began with Jesse Frazer of Florence who was the first man in the Colorado Territory to successfully raise apple trees. In 1867, he planted his first orchard and established the first Apple Tree Nursery in Colorado. He is also known for discovering and naming the famed Colorado Orange apple.

Other orchards followed and a thriving industry was established which lasted well into the 1930s. An article from the Cañon City Daily Record dated April 14, 1905, documents five boxes of Cañon City’s finest apples being delivered to President Teddy Roosevelt while he was at camp in Colorado, compliments of the Fruit Growers Association.

York Imperial Apple Trees near Montrose
Photo Credit:  Denver Public Library
r a captio

However by World War II period production had declined and commercial orchards started to die out. According to a Cañon City Daily Record article from 1990, the fall of the orchards in the area largely had to do with the climate, with the Western Slope offering more stable spring weather than Fremont County.

On the Western Slope of Colorado, the Grand Valley apple boom occurred about 1895 when promoters planted thousands of acres, in five, ten, twenty, and forty-acre plots. Western Slope fruit won prizes throughout all parts of the U.S. for the fruit’s beauty, color, and taste. In 1908 fourteen varieties of Grand Valley apples won sweepstakes at Cornell University.  Montezuma County apples took three of four gold medals in the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.Two years later, they earned 101 of the 104 ribbons bestowed on apples at the Colorado State Fair.

The Maiden Blush, Chenango Strawberry and Duchess of Oldenburg heirloom apples found in Colorado. Photo Credit:  Adalyn Schuenemeyer /Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project

The Colorado apple industry declined due to several factors. Orchards failed due to poor management by orchard owners from the east who did not know how to manage fruit production in a harsh climate. Over-irrigation in soils with poor drainage allowed salts to build up in the soil, stressing the trees and making them susceptible to disease.

The rise of the Red Delicious apple, which became a national craze in the 1920’s due to its brilliant red color, caused growers to plant only one or two varieties of apple, including Red Delicious. (Red Delicious at one point accounted for approximately 70% of apples produced in the United States). Orchards with just one or two varieties were more vulnerable to diseases and crop-killing frosts. In the past, orchards with many varieties might lose some trees to a freeze, but not all.

Another big contributor was competition from Washington State with its milder climate and focus on producing large quantities of just a few varieties. At some point growing an apple orchard in Colorado became a losing business proposition.

Some of these old orchards still remain, as well as trees hidden in subdivision backyards, sections of hay fields, abandoned homesteads, and open spaces. The Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project  located in McElmo Canyon near Cortez, Colorado, was created to identify and rescue these old varieties. The founders, Addie and Jude Schuenemeyer were running a nursery in Western Colorado and kept hearing from old-timer customers nostalgic for apples they had known as kids. Their interest piqued, Jude and Addie  began to search out old historic trees and learned to graft so that these old apple varieties could be saved. They were able to obtain DNA testing from USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Genetic Resource Preservation in Ft. Collins for assistance with identification. Photo Credit:  Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project

In their own words: “Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP) works to preserve Colorado’s fruit- growing heritage and restore an orchard culture and economy to the southwestern region.”

“ By searching historical books, reports and records, we have so far documented 436 varieties of apples that were planted in Colorado prior to 1930. Many of the apples on this list we find still growing in our landscape on trees up to 100 years old or older. Others, nearly 50% of the list, are now considered lost/extinct. This great diversity disappeared not because these varieties did not grow well here, rather because many were simply not shiny red apples representing the standard of the time. “  Photo Credit:  Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project

One of the apples they really wanted to track down was the famous Colorado Orange. It is special because of its Colorado origins (Fremont Country), color and flavor profile. Its coloration is yellow with a reddish blush; the flavor profile is complex — tart and sweet with a bit of a citrus bite.

Scheuenmeyer had tried and failed to find a tree in Montezuma County. He knew of its Fremont county origins and managed to get in touch with Paul Telck, the owner of a 40 acre historic orchard.  Telck thought he had a Colorado Orange tree, so the Scheuenmeyers made the trek to Fremont County. The age and location of the orchard added up as did the coloration which matched the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection’s watercolor representation. Scheuenmeyer submitted samples for DNA analysis and found that the tree didn’t match any other known apples. They then matched the apples to the watercolors’ color, shape, and cavity characteristics. The results were good.

On the left is the historic watercolor used for comparison.  It is from A U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library illustration of a Colorado Orange from Fremont County, in 1909.  On the right is a photo of a real Colorado Orange apple.  Photo Credits:  Courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture, Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project

Another degree of confidence came when MORP was able to match the apples to a wax cast of a Colorado Orange. Scheuenmeyer says:  “We took actual apple samples from the possible Colorado Orange to compare to a wax cast of a horticulture specimen (from the CSU Archives) that grew over a 100 years ago. Yes, there was a Colorado Orange in the box! Its shape and color match to the real life apples. We cannot taste or smell or cut it open for comparison, of course, but this may be as close as we get. Now we are 98% sure give or take 3% we have found the elusive Colorado Orange apple.”

There are now young grafted Colorado Orange trees growing at MORP; I will wait impatiently until they are able to offer them for sale.


Young grafted trees at MORP.
Photo Credit:  Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project


While doing research for this article, I found several excellent resources online that further detail the Colorado apple industry’s history and the search for the Colorado Orange. I highly recommend them for further reading:

An Apple Revival Near Four Corners Is Restoring Hundreds of Historic Fruits — and the Local Ag Economy 

The Comeback of the Endangered Colorado Orange,  an Apple

The Elusive Colorado Orange 


A Long History of Fruit Production in Colorado

Penstemons — Tough and Beautiful Natives


by Diane Engles, HAS Trustee


If you are looking to plant more water-wise and pollinator-friendly perennials this spring, a top contender is the penstemon. This North American native plant produces colorful tubular flared blooms on vertical flower spikes — perfect feeding stations for hummingbirds and other pollinators. The shape and color of the leaves vary depending on the cultivar. They can be oval, lance-shaped or needlelike with colors ranging from green or blue-green to deep purple. Penstemons are related to foxgloves and snapdragons as is evidenced by the similarity of their blossoms. There are over 250 species of penstemons native to the U.S. and over 800 cultivars and hybrids.

Cardinal penstemon (Penstemon cardinalis) showing the “beards”
Photo Credit:  High Country Gardens

“Penstemon” is derived from the Greek words penta and stemon, referring to the flower’s five stamens, four of which are fertile and one sterile. They are also known as beardtongues due to the pollen-free stamen (or staminode) which protrudes from the flower and is covered by small hairs.Penstemons are long blooming and do well in a drier climate such as ours. They are especially happy in loose gravelly soil with good drainage. Penstemons tend to bloom in early summer just after the spring bloomers have faded. They come in sizes ranging from dwarfs that tuck nicely into rock gardens, to waist-high plants that can bring color and movement to the back of the border. They have a broad palette of colors ranging from soft pinks, lavenders and yellows, through more intense shades of violet, rose, and orange, as well as being known for electrifying reds and blues. Deadheading can result in a second flush of bloom, but leave one or two stems to set seed as penstemons are short-lived compared to other perennials.

Pineleaf Penstemon (P. pinifolius) comes in orange and yellow and is one of the shorter penstemons. The older variety is a vivid orange-red, and there is a yellow variety called “Mersea Yellow”. Pineleaf Penstemons have green needle-like foliage with loose spires of blossoms reaching about 10-12 inches in height. Plant Select® has introduced a variety called SteppeSuns™ Sunset Glow.  Plant Select® describes it as: “This selection is more than 20 years in the making with each clone and generation an improvement in color and plant size. SteppeSuns™ Sunset Glow is a warming orange color that blooms for a very long season.”





Left to right: Orange, yellow, and Sunset Glow Pineleaf Penstemons
Photo Credits:  High Country GardensHigh Country Gardens, Plant Select


Photo Credit: JerryFriedman
/ CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus ) is hardy to Zone 4. Native to Wyoming, Utah and western Colorado, it thrives in rocky or gravelly soil but will adapt to others. One of the longer-lived varieties, it has a basal mat of rounded green foliage with bright blue blooms rising 2-3 feet tall. I first saw it growing in the wild and was delighted to find it will adapt to life in a garden.


Photo Credit:  High Country Gardens


Palmer’s Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri)  is a tall penstemon hardy to Zone 5. One of the few fragrant penstemons, It has gray green foliage topped in early summer by honey-scented light pink flowers on spikes 4-5 feet tall. Native to southern California, Arizona and Utah, it thrives in arid climates and dry, sandy or gravelly soils. It will not tolerate clay.   


Photo Credit:  Plant Select®

Carolyn’s Hope Penstemon (Penstemon x Mexicali) is a lovely pink and hardy to Zone 4. It is a Plant Select® variety, a hybrid between Mexican and American wild penstemons. Carolyn’s Hope was developed in Colorado for the purpose of raising funds to support breast cancer research at the University of Colorado Cancer Center. It is of medium height, 14-18 inches tall and 12-15 inches wide. Cheerful pink, white-throated tubular flowers and dark pink buds rise above narrow, glossy green foliage and are attractive nearly all summer long. Deadhead in order to prolong bloom. Seedlings are often not true to variety color, so pull (if desired). 


Photo Credit:  Plant Select®

Penstemon Pikes Peak Purple® (Penstemon- Penstemon x mexicali ‘P007S’ ) is another mexicali hybrid with violet-purple flowers all summer, hardy to Zone 4. It has narrow dark green leaves that form an attractive mound of medium height 14-18 inches tall and 12-14 inches wide. It thrives in a range of soils and will take some shade. I grew Pikes Peak Purple® last year and loved its intense coloration. It looks lovely with yellow flowers as companions.



Blue Mist Penstemon (Penstemon virens ) in the author’s garden

We’ve barely dipped our toes into the wide variety of penstemons that are readily available. You will find these and many others at your local garden centers.


If you want to dive deeper into the world of penstemons, you can check out the American Penstemon Society.  This organization was founded in 1946 and continues their mission of studying, hybridizing and exchanging seed among members today.