Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Iceplants & Penstemons - Sparkling stars of dry gardens

Last month the shrubby Penstemon (Penstemon fruticosus) bloomed and this month I have several more Penstemons putting on a great show.  I have been on a newly-found mission to collect as many species of Penstemon as I can find.  Not only are they lovely-looking flowers, but they thrive in sand and drought conditions.  Therefore, they are excellent perennials for non-irrigated parts of the yard, which at our place, is composed mainly of sand.  I have been obtaining seeds, though have only grown a few plants that way (Penstemon mexicali).  Native plant nurseries are a good place to find interesting varieties of Penstemons. 

Penstemon strictus and yellow carpet of Iceplant (Delosperma nubigenum)
I am growing this Penstemon strictus (Rocky Mountain Penstemon) next to an English Lavender, which gives a nice progression of blooms so that as the Penstemon blooms fade, the lavender will be in full bloom.  Like many Penstemon, this one shares the favoured conditions with the Iceplant (Delosperma).  These perennials are growing in warm conditions (mostly sun and against rocks) and in soil composed mostly of sand.  Drainage is excellent.  I have had iceplants literally turn to mush in the flowerbeds topped with bark mulch and receiving regular irrigation.  Penstemons may do the same disappearing trick in wet conditions.
Penstemon grandiflorus
This Penstemon grandiflorus (Large-flowered Beardtongue) was just planted this spring and is now producing this large tubular lavender-colored flowers.  It is growing in sand, next to the tiny pink flowers of another sand and drought loving plant, rosy evening primrose (Oenothera rosea).

I planted this bit of iceplant on a sandy, non-irrigated slope in my yard.  It has been entirely neglected this year.  Note how neglect seems to cause this plant to look great!  I think this was even one of the named cultivars rather than a species iceplant, which I had regarded as less hardy than D. nubigenum.  Instead, I think the ones that don't make it just had the wrong growing conditions.  There are many iceplants growing in the Summerland Ornamental Gardens' Xeriscape garden area.  They are greatly inspiring. 


  1. Living in a similar climate to Saskatchewan, it's so hard to believe that one could have apples and sunflowers in June! Stunning!

  2. Would you be willing to exchange one or two emails with me about your experience with growing penstemons in both Saskatchewan and B.C.? Please respond to

    1. Sorry, the reply cut out. No email contact given.