Archive for the ‘Perennial’ Category

Physochlaina orientalis, Hill Farm, May 2017. Image:HFN

Perennial. Zone 3. Solanaceae. Eastern Europe into Asia: southeast Russia, Armenia, Crimea and Dagestan, Anatolia, and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Syn. Hyoscyamus orientalis, Scopolia orientalis. Slightly ironically, this is the westernmost species in its genus, despite the “orientalis” common to its synonyms.

The genus name, Physochlaina, comes from the Greek: physo meaning a bladder or air bubble, and chlaina, an outer garment, specifically a short coat. This descriptive epithet is in reference to the inflated calyx at the base of the flower structure, which swells  after the blossoms drop and the flattened ivory seeds develop. Orientalis meaning “of the orient”, “of the East”.

In its native regions Physochlaina orientalis is a plant of rocky mountain slopes and open deciduous forests, being found at elevations up to 2000 metres.

Here at Macalister, this small, rare Nightshade Family member is quietly noteworthy for the month or so of its early spring emergence and flowering.

Flower clusters of Physochlaina orientalis. Note the intricate veining, and the resemblance to its much larger relative Henbane, Hyoscyamus niger. Being in the Nightshade Family, Physochlaina most likely contains some of the powerful alkaloids of its many medicinally-valued cousins, but I am not aware of any herbal uses of this plant. It is presumably slightly toxic if consumed, as are many members of the Solanaceae, but again I have heard no reports of it being particularly dangerous in that way. Image: HFN

First shoots are dark purple – almost black – with the leaves turning green as they unfold. Bloom stalks appear in late April, crowded with clustered buds which open into nodding, smoky-purple, dark-veined bells. Flowers are produced over a period of several weeks, as the stems elongate to an eventual height of 12 inches or so.

Foliage is oblong, softly hairy, wavy-edged and dark-veined. Leaves clasp the bloom stalks and spread outwards as the season progresses, giving an effect similar to a smallish, unspotted Pulmonaria, though the two are not related.

The aging blooms drop off as spring advances, leaving behind inflated calyxes in which the seeds develop. Once seed matures sometime in early summer, the leaves begin to yellow and the plant goes into a dormant stage, completely disappearing until the next spring when it returns with a few more bloom stems than its previous year.

Physochlaina orientalis forms semi-tuberous, rhizomatous roots, with multiple shoots emerging from a central base, and its colonies slowly expand over time. It self seeds modestly once well established, but is in general a very restrained, well-behaved plant, staying exactly where it is placed, and growing in beauty year after year.

Spring-foraging bees are attracted to the small trumpets of the blooms, which are at their peak during appleblossom time, along with Fritillaria meleagris, the earliest species Columbines (Aquilegia flabellata, A. viridiflora), and the early spring Violas and Primulas.

This easy, hardy, summer ephemeral is quite adaptable as to siting. It thrives in sun to part shade, and though it enjoys a humusy woodland soil and early season moisture, it is very summer drought tolerant as it goes into dormancy with the onset of the hottest days. Good in the woodland border, mixed perennial border, or rock garden.

Image: HFN

This plant has been grown in gardens since at least the early 1800s. George Don, in his 1838 book A General System of Gardening and Botany, had this to say:

The species of Physochlaina are extremely desirable plants; being early flowerers, and elegant when in blossom. They will grow in any soil, and are readily propagated by divisions of the root, or by seed. They are well adapted for decorating borders in early spring.

A coloured engraving of Hyoscyamus (Physochlaina) orientalis from an issue of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, 1823.

 

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Claytonia lanceolata Spring Beauty Wells B.C. Image: HFN

Claytonia lanceolata – Spring Beauty. West of Wells B.C., May 20, 2015. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 1. Montiaceae – Montia Family – formerly Portulacaceae. Native to western North America, widely occuring in subalpine and alpine meadows from the lower half of British Columbia south to New Mexico. The generic name Claytonia is after 17th century English botanist John Clayton, who collected plants in North America. Lanceolata refers to the shape of the rather fleshy, lance-shaped, paired leaves. Also known as INDIAN POTATO or MOUNTAIN POTATO, for its importance as a First Nations food crop.

British Columbia is a place of astonishing biodiversity, and one of the most fascinating aspects of this botanical richness is just how many of our native plants were foraged for and cultivated by the local indigenous peoples. Claytonia lanceolata, abundant in certain areas of the Cariboo-Chilcotin (in particular in the Potato Mountain range near Tatlayoko Lake on the Chilcotin Plateau) is perhaps one of the most important examples.

In earliest spring, as the snow recedes, smooth, lance-shaped leaves emerge from the mountain meadow turf, and Spring Beauty sends up its slender 6-inch bloom stems, topped by clusters of delicate 5-petalled flowers, purest white to ethereal pink. These bloom with such abundance as to turn whole areas white, mimicking the just-vanished snow.

Claytonia lanceolata in a wet meadow, near WElls, B.C. May 20, 2015. Image: HFN

Claytonia lanceolata in a wet meadow, near Wells, B.C. May 20, 2015. Image: HFN

Aesthetically beautiful, to be sure, but the plant is more than just another pretty wildflower, for it sprouts from a sturdy bulb, high in starches and sugars, and local inhabitants, human and ursine, found these to be worthy of foraging as the flowers faded and the bulbs reached their peak in energy storage to prepare for summer dormancy.

Wild food foragers value these greatly. Xavier de la Foret shares the following on the Sustainable Living Project blog:

SpringBeautyCorm claytonia lanceolata image Xavier de la foret

Claytonia lanceolata bulb. Image: Xavier de la Foret

Spring beauties (Claytonia lanceolata) are a delight to the eyes, both from generous carpets in sunny meadows and single flowers up close. The above-ground parts are edible and great in salads. They can also be cooked but I find that they become quite slimy that way. I definitely prefer them raw. But their greatest treasures rest under the ground and fairly close to the surface at that. They have a corm resembling the appearance and taste of small round potatoes and they’re absolutely delicious.

To find the largest corms, look closely at the thickness and number of stems emerging from a single spot on the ground. In general, if the plant has at least 4 thick stems, or a least 10 thin stems, then the corm has a good chance of being large. Don’t bother digging up the smaller plants as these are best left to grow for subsequent years!

Cook the corms as you would a potato. They also dry very well if you cut them in half while raw or if you mash them and dry them as thin patties after cooking them. Alternately, you can store them in earthen pits or buckets full of dirt to keep them fresh.

This plant is a moisture lover, and flourishes in the acidic soils of snow-water seepages in higher elevation meadows throughout our region. An easy-to-access population flourishes beside the road to Wells and Barkerville, east of Quesnel, where sharp-eyed botanists will catch sight of intriguing flushes of low-growing white bloom in May.

Though the species is yellow-listed in B.C., as stable and not in danger of extirpation, casual observers should not disturb the wild populations, enjoying them instead for their beauty. However, grizzly bears are under no such injunctions, and they will forage the bulbs with great enthusiasm, which gives further credence to their reputed delectability as a food source.

Bulbs are generally quite small, 1 or 2 inches in diameter, but I have read ethnobotanical accounts of the Claytonia lanceolata habitats of the Potato Mountains being subjected to controlled burning in the fall, to decrease shrub and competitive plant growth. In those cases, bulbs as large as a person’s fist were reported to occur.

The bulbs are very close to the surface, and are easily harvested. They sometimes grow in conjunction with another lovely ephemeral, the Avalance or Glacier Lily, Erythronium grandiflorum, which was also harvested for its sweet roots. Large quantities of Claytonia bulbs were collected during foraging trips, and were then eaten right away, or processed by cooking and drying, or stored in raw form in deep pits for future winter consumption.

This is not a plant I would recommend for inclusion in a cultivated garden, though if you live in an area such as Wells where the plants naturally occur, and if your property includes a wet spot, you might find it interesting to develop a wild garden featuring Claytonia and other native species, such as the dwarf white Trollius laxus, yellow Viola glabella, and the white-flowered Rhododendron albiflorum. Or just enjoy them all in the wild; a great excuse for a spring ramble. (Watch out for those bears!)

Claytonia lanceolata Image: HFN

Claytonia lanceolata. Pink-tipped stamens await a visit by the first foraging pollinators. Image: HFN

Claytonia laceolata, getting its pretty feet wet. Wells, May 20, 2015. Image: HFN

Claytonia lanceolata, happily getting its roots wet. Near Wells, B.C., May 20, 2015. Image: HFN

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Lewisia rediviva - Bitterroot. Near Ashcroft, B.C., May 2014. Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva – Bitterroot. Near Ashcroft, B.C., May 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 3. Montiaceae – Montia Family – formerly Portulacaceae. Native to western North America, east of the Cascades in southern British Columbia, south to California and east to Montana, Colorado and Arizona.This plant is the state flower of Montana. Also known as ROCK-ROSE and RESURRECTION FLOWER.

This improbable ephemeral of the sagebrush hillsides of southern British Columbia (from approximately Cache Creek, south and eastwards) is of remarkable delicacy, rather unexpected considering its challenging home.

Tiny rosettes of succulent foliage emerge in early autumn, taking advantage of fall rains to fatten them enough for overwintering. In spring, the foliage withers away, and, as the leaves die, elongated flower buds emerge on short stems in April and early May, and proceed to unfold tissue-thin, delicately veined petals in shades of white to rich rose-pink.

Lewisia rediviva was an important food plant for the region’s First Nations people, though European settlers who sampled the roots reported that its bitterness was not to their liking.

The genus is named after botanist-explorer Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark renown, who tried eating the roots of Lewisia rediviva at some point during that exploratory expedition into the Louisiana Purchase lands and the Pacific Northwest, from 1804 to 1806. He wrote in his journal that: “(T)hey became perfectly soft by boiling, but had a very bitter taste, which was naucious to my pallate, and I transferred them to the Indians who had ate them heartily.”

Lewisia rediviva growing in great abundance on cattle-grazed rangeland, west of Ashcroft, B.C., May 2014. Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva growing in great abundance on cattle-grazed rangeland, west of Ashcroft, B.C., May 2014. Image: HFN

Here is an excerpt of this plant’s entry in Lewis J. Clark’s 1972 masterwork, Wild Flowers of the Pacific Northwest.

This extraordinary plant, remarkable for its spectacular flowers and adaptation to a harsh environment, is the state flower of Montana, and gives its name to the Bitter Root Mountains.

The origin of the specific name is illustrated by an anecdote. Captain Meriwether Lewis, on July 1, 1806, when the celebrated expedition he led with William Clark had reached (on their return from Oregon) a point just south of the present city of Missoula, Montana, collected a specimen of what he recognized to be a remarkable plant, and pressed it between dry papers in a botanical press. Months afterward (in Philadelphia) this completely desiccated specimen was planted, since it still showed signs of life – and proceeded to grow! Pursh was so impressed that he aptly named the new species rediviva, restored to life.

We would like to see the Indian name retained, just as we have seen that the native name has survived for Camas, and has even been Latinized as Camassia. Spatlum, or Spaetlum, was even more important as a food resource to the aborigines, being more widespread and more readily kept for winter use. Bitter Root is, of course, the white man’s name – for even after removal of the intensely bitter, orange-coloured, inner bark, the white interior pulp remains rather unpalatable to the European taste.

Lewisia rediviva occurs – at times in vast numbers – both among the rock spurs of the high country, and the desert flats of the inter-mountain regions, from the crests of the Cascades eastward, and from southern British Columbia to southern California.

The relatively big, forked, fat rhizomes of the plant, after the first rains of waning summer, sprout a thick tuft of succulent leaves that resemble large plump fir-needles. These leaves survive the winter but begin to shrivel, and are often quite withered away by the following May, when the arid wastes are sprinkled – it seems almost overnight, miraculously – with brilliant “water-lily” blossoms – white, pink, and rose. These open only in bright sunshine, and afford a quite astounding spectacle. On dull days the spectacular waxen petals become furled, like an umbrella, within the brownish bracts and sepals, only to reappear within minutes – as if by magic – when the hot sun breaks through. The effect is breath-taking on some of the dry flats, where the plants adorn every few inches over many acres.

Each 2-inch flower (with its 12-18 petals) is solitary, carried about 3 inches above the ground, and ripens 6-20 shining brown seeds (that are spread widely when the dried capsule is broken off and rolled away by the wind). In spite of the destruction of many fields by cultivation, the lovely Bitter Root still is abundant in arid flats unsuited for irrigation.

On a 2014 journey through south-central British Columbia, we were thrilled to observe Lewisia rediviva in full bloom along the roadside near Ashcroft, B.C. A casual driver-by might miss this botanical spectacular, but a sharp-eyed plant person will have no difficulty in noticing something worthy of further investigation. Start searching on the west side of Highway 97, just south of the racetrack. Late April to mid-May is the time.

Lewisia rediviva habitat west of ashcroft may 2014 Image: HFN

This is what you’re looking for: Lewisia rediviva habitat, west of Ashcroft, B.C. May 2014. Image: HFN

Lewisia Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva.  Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva close-up Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva. Image: HFN

Plants should not be taken from the wild, but can be grown from collected or commercially-purchased seed. Seeds should be sown in pots in autumn, and placed outside to overwinter in a freeze-thaw cycle. They will sprout when the weather warms in spring, and generally take several years to reach flowering stage.

Lewisia rediviva is only happy in a well-drained location with zero supplemental watering in summer – too much moisture will be fatal. Tiny foliage tufts overwinter under the snow, to give way to the spring blooms. Not for the garden proper, but a lovely rock garden plant, and worth trying in a hypertufa trough, if such is your horticultural pleasure.

Lewisia rediviva - foliage cluster, Napa County, California, May 2010. Image: David A. Hofmann

Lewisia rediviva – foliage cluster, Napa County, California, May 2010. Image: David A. Hofmann

 

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More bees on Scabiosa cousin Cephalaria tchihatchewii - 10 feet tall and alive with humming visitors. Hill Farm, July 21, 2014

Cephalaria tchihatchewii – Tchihatchev’s Cephalaria. This Scabiosa cousin is a true bee magnet. It reached 10 feet tall and was alive with humming and buzzing visitors at Hill Farm, July 21, 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Dipsacaceae – Teasel Family. Native to Turkey and Iran. The genus name Cephalaria originates from the Greek kephale, “head”, and ala (alaria), “winged”, in reference to the large outer petals of the blooms. Tchihatchewii is after the Russian naturalist and biologist Pyotr Alexandrovich Chikhachyov (alternatively Chikhatchev/Tchihatchev), 1808-1890, who traveled widely throughout his long life and documented the flora of Asia Minor in his 3500-species Herbarium Chikhatchev.

This big, back-of-the-border, trouble-free plant has thrived here for almost twenty years. It originally arrived as part of an order of interesting perennials from a small, now-defunct Canadian prairie mailorder nursery. It has given me a whole lot of pleasure over the years, and has received a lot of positive comment from garden visitors.

Occasionally we dig it up and move it to a new position, knocking a division or two off to share with others, and it always settles back in without any issues, other than shorter bloom stalks for the season of the move.

Great big clumps of raggedly cut foliage reach 2 or 3 feet tall and wide, and send up many tall, multi-branched stems, 6 to 10 feet tall, which are starred by round, creamy sulphur-yellow, white-stamened “pincushion flowers” in July and August.

Bees and butterflies of all sorts love Cephalaria, as they do its close relation Scabiosa.

This plant is not particularily showy in the traditional sense of the word, but it is decidedly attactive. It is a good accent plant for others sharing its bloom season, and is a long-lasting cutflower for mixed bouquets. Place it mid or back of the border, where the graceful blooms can be best appreciated as a foil for the other things sharing its space.

It doesn’t generally need staking. Bloom stalks with their bristling, rounded seed clusters may be left intact to delight small birds in autumn, or cut back in the interests of garden tidiness. It will self sow if allowed, but we have found young plants easy to remove from where they’re not wanted. One plant is probably enough for any but the most expansive garden.

Tchihatchev’s Cephalaria has a number of equally garden-worthy relations, including the well-known Cephalaria gigantea – just as large, with identical blooms – I’m not quite sure what the botanical differences are, because they look pretty well interchangeable to me – and Cephalaria alpina, slightly smaller and more compact at a mere 4 to 6 feet.

Sun is best, average soil and moisture. Quite drought tolerant, but not what I’d call a true xeriscape plant, as the foliage yellows in very dry locations, and flower production suffers.

Cephalaria habit hill farm, July 2, 2014. Image: HFN

Cephalaria tchihatchewii. At the back of a sunny border, Hill Farm, July 21, 2014. Image: HFN

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cepahalaria foliage hill farm july 2, 2015 Image: HFN

Cephalaria tchihatchewii. An out-of-focus glimpse of the foliage clump. (Leaves in left foreground are Echinops sphaerocephalus.) The Cephalaria‘s substantial dark green leaves are large and divided with raggedly-margined leaflets. Flowers are produced on individual stems coming from the leaf axils of the bloom stalks, starting at the base and going all the way up. Image: HFN

 

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Physalis franchetii - Chinese Lanterns - Vancouver, B.C., October 2014. Image: HFN

Physalis franchetii – Chinese Lanterns – Vancouver, B.C., October 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Solanaceae. Syn. Physalis franchettii. A.k.a. WINTER CHERRY, BLADDER CHERRY, LOVE-IN-A-CAGE. Mid to Eastern Europe, Mid to Northern Asia, including China. Physalis is from the Greek physa, meaning “bladder, in reference to the inflated calyx which surrounds each solitary berry.

This is one of the most popular plants we sell every year, as people are seduced by the idea of its fascinating autumn display of orange-husked berries. It is a seasonally showy plant with great appeal, but it does have a few negative issues. More on that in a bit.

Physalis alkekengi (formerly known as P. franchetii) is a member of the Nightshade Family, which means it is kin to such plants as tomato, potato, sweet and hot peppers, tobacco, the superbly fragrant but highly toxic datura, the lovely petunia, and a host of other useful and attractive garden plants. It is reported to be the only species native to Europe and Asia; most of the Nightshades originate in the Americas.

Physalis alkekengi flower - highly enlarged - these are small.

Physalis alkekengi flower – highly enlarged – in real life these are quite small. Image: H. Zell

Physalis alkekengi is a vigorous grower, producing widely jointed, brittle, rather lax stems to 2 feet or so tall which are lined with large, heart-shaped, deep green, glossy leaves. Small creamy-white flowers are produced in the leaf axils in midsummer, and these in turn form glossy green berry-like fruit which are enclosed in papery green husks – an adaptation of the calyx leaves which in most plants merely cradle the bases of flowers. These both – the inner fruit and the outer husk – slowly blush from bright green to rich orange, until the stems are lined with brilliant, inflated “lanterns” – leading to the most apt descriptive name.

The lantern in its full autumn glory. Image: H. Zell.

The lantern in its full autumn glory. Image: H. Zell.

Once full colour is achieved, the lanterns may be harvested individually or by the stem (it’s best to strip the leaves) and dried as everlastings. If left in the garden, the orange colour turns to brown and the softer parts of the husk start to rot away, leaving a skeletal framework of veins enclosing a bright orange berry. The berry eventually detaches from the plant, falls to the bottom of the pod, and from there drops to the ground – a fascinating adaptation.

Can you see where the common name Love-in-a-Cage comes from? Perfect!

Can you see where the common name Love-in-a-Cage comes from? Note the point of the husk starting to open up – the fruit will soon be on the ground. Image: Wikimedia

So far, so good. Now for the bad news.

This plant can be VIGOROUS. If planted in rich, loose, evenly-moist soil -“good” garden conditions, in other words – it sends its long white roots out in all directions, heartlessly overrunning less bumptious neighbours.

If over-fertilized, it will go all to foliage, with few flowers (and subsequent lanterns.)

If things get too soggy, the roots will rot.

“Fine,” you think to yourself, “I’ll starve it into cooperation.” But watch out – the plant responds to poor soil by turning yellow and sulking, and, if kept too dry for too long, by dropping all of its leaves and completely collapsing.

It’s also the first plant in the greenhouse to be attacked by spider mites if things get overly hot and dry towards the end of the spring season.

In the garden, it’s late to emerge in the spring, and then, when it does poke up, it’s too often well out of bounds, which requires a concerted effort to bring things under control.

So don’t plant your Chinese Lanterns in the mixed border, unless perhaps it is with other plants with substantial root systems and enough size to outface the Physalis. Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium sp.) springs to mind, or perhaps some of the more vigorous daylily varieties – this might go well with Hemerocallis fulva ‘Europa’, the old-fashioned orange single which can make an impermeable invader-proof clump. Or maybe grow it with Bishop’s Goutwort, Aegopodium podagraria ‘variegata’, and sell tickets to the apocalyptic territorial battle which will then ensue. Well, just kidding on that last one. (Sort of!) The Physalis isn’t that bad, but what I’m trying to get across here is that you do want to keep an eye on it.

Perhaps the best siting technique, and one which I’ve seen used successfully in a number of Cariboo gardens, is to devote a spot exclusively to it, either in a solidly-edged bed by itself or in a circle of removed turf in the lawn. The lawn technique works well, as the thick mat of surrounding sod seems to hamper the Chinese Lanterns’ roving ways, and the level of fertility and moisture which keeps grass happy seems about right to keep the Physalis healthy and in the mood to produce loads of flowers and those subsequent bright orange orbs.

You could also try growing it in a large buried bucket (don’t forget the drain holes) but this requires some attention to ensure that you don’t overwater it, or, conversely, let it get too dry.

For exposure, sun to light shade is fine.

I hope this hasn’t put you off this plant completely – that would never do! It is a unique and interesting thing, and well worth a dedicated space in a quiet corner of the flower garden.

Chinese Lanterns is a decidedly old-fashioned plant, which the Victorians valued greatly for its value as a winter ornamental, and it is enjoying something of a renewed vogue today, for I’ve noticed it the last few years sold in September in its full autumnal glory in decorated pots in the floral departments of local grocery stores

Well before the Victorian era, the plant was used for medicinal purposes, as the fruit was used to treat bladder and kidney complaints. The berries are apparently very rich in Vitamin C, but they are also said to be extremely sour, and not particularly appetizing. We don’t recommend you try to consume this plant in any way without advice from a knowledgeable herbalist, as most parts except the ripe fruits contain potentially toxic components.

Physalis alkekengi - Atlas des Plantes de France - 1891

An illustration from an antique herbal – Physalis alkekengi – Atlas des Plantes de France – 1891

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Penstemon hirsutus - Eastern Penstemon

Penstemon hirsutus – Eastern Penstemon

Perennial. Zone 3. Plantaginaceae, formerly Scrophulariaceae. Syn. Penstemon pubescens. A.k.a. HAIRY BEARD-TONGUE. North America. In Canada, from Ontario eastward. The entire plant – leaves, stems, buds, flowers – is entirely covered by tiny, silky hairs, hence the Latin and common names.

Penstemon hirsutus - detail of buds and flowrs showing tiny, silky hairs.

Penstemon hirsutus – detail of buds and flowers showing tiny, silky hairs.

Penstemon hirsutus is an attractive North American wildflower which is widely grown in gardens. There are numerous forms, including a dwarf type, Penstemon hirsutus ‘pygmaeus’, which is very popular in alpine gardens. Colours may range from pure white through pale lavender to rosy tones – but the most common is the blushed lavender pictured above.

This Penstemon is a quietly  elegant, rather understated plant. The foliage clumps are attractive, being composed of smooth, satin-textured, dark green, lanceolate leaves. Its roots are rhizomatous, and the plant slowly expands from its center. Penstemon hirsutus is completely non-invasive. Mature plants may be carefully divided and replanted in early spring to prolong the plant’s life, as they can get quite woody and die off  in the centers.

Penstemon hirsutus - Eastern Penstemon - in the mixed perennial norder. Image: Vesna Maric

Penstemon hirsutus – Eastern Penstemon – in the mixed perennial border. Image: Vesna Maric

Slender stems arise in early summer, 18 to 30 inches tall. These are lined with loosely arranged whorls of small, pale-purple-flushed-with-darker-highlights, tubular flowers in late June through July. The buds and flowers have a silken sheen which rewards a closer look.

A rather beautiful plant, though not at all what one could call “showy”. I am fond of it, for its ease of growth and self-sufficiency – no need of staking or pruning or any sort of fussing –  and its profuse blooms, always alive with bees. All of the Penstemons are great hummingbird favourites, and this species is no exception.

Penstemon hirsutus is happy in any average garden soil. It is drought tolerant and can be used in xeriscape plantings, but will get larger and bloom more with at least a bit of supplemental moisture in the hottest months of summer. Full sun is best, though it can tolerate part-day light shade. A pleasant front-of-border plant.

Penstemon hirsutus in full bloom stage, mid-summer.

Penstemon hirsutus in full bloom stage, mid-summer.

Penstemon hirsutus coming to the end of its bloom time - Williams Lake, B.C. - July 2014. Image: HFN

A rosy-purple Penstemon hirsutus coming to the end of its bloom time – Williams Lake, B.C. – July 2014. Image: HFN

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Penstemon digitalis - 'Mystica' Penstemon

Penstemon digitalis – ‘Mystica’ Penstemon

Perennial. Zone 4. Scrophulariaceae. Mid-Eastern North America, including Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. A.k.a. FOXGLOVE PENSTEMON.

Some years ago Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’ was absolutely everywhere, and being touted as something of a wonder plant – “Long blooming!” “Beautiful foliage!” “Drought tolerant!”  It was the Perennial Plant Association’s “Perennial of the Year” in 1996, which is generally a recommendation of good garden merit, but in this case I do believe the hype was greater than the plant proved to be. I grew it for a few seasons and thought it nice enough in a minor-key way, but when it succumbed to a not-particularly-hard winter, I shrugged and moved on.

‘Mystica’ is the offspring of ‘Husker’s Red’, and has proven to be a generally better plant than its parent. Released in 2008, ‘Mystica’ is not receiving nearly as much promotion as its ancestor, but the word in the gardening world is uniformly positive. I’ve been growing it for four or five seasons now, and I have found it quietly attractive and reliably hardy.

Penstemon digitalis is a showy North American wildflower, widely adapted to various soils and happy in full sun to light shade. It is drought resistant to the point of being included on xeriscape lists, though the nicest specimens are those which receive at least a bit of attention in the way of decent soil and some summer moisture. Both ‘Husker’s Red’ and ‘Mystica’ are selections of the species, developed by choosing the seedlings with desirable traits (dark foliage, showy flowers, long bloom time, hardiness) through successive generations.

‘Mystica’ makes a tidy clump of purple-flushed, silky-smooth foliage. 18 to 24 inch tall bloom stems emerge in early summer, and produce pretty, white-blushed-with-purple rather foxglove-like blooms for 3 to 4 weeks. Once the flowers drop, the glossy purple seed pods provide garden interest. The foliage stays attractive right until first snowfall, responding to cooler autumn temperatures with a reddening of its dusky leaves.

As with all of the Penstemons, hummingbirds love ‘Mystica’, as do numerous types of bees and other insects. It is nice towards the border front, and is tidy enough for the rock garden. In general, a good plant, attractive for three seasons and adaptable in a wide range of conditions.

Penstemon digitalis - 'Mystica' Penstemon

Penstemon digitalis – ‘Mystica’ Penstemon

‘Mystica’ is propagated by seed, so plants are a bit variable as to ultimate height and coloration of foliage. Occasionally a mostly green plant shows up in a batch, but when I kept a few of these instead of rogueing them out, I found them to be perfectly acceptable, blooming away nicely with their showier-foliaged siblings, and adding some contrast to the small colony in my garden.

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