Throughout the western United States, penstemons’ flowering spikes add welcome color from late winter through spring and summer, depending on the species. Palmer’s penstemon, one of the largest species, is prized for its pale pink flowers, which are borne on 4- to 5-foot-tall spikes.
Unlike most penstemons, Palmer’s flowers are fragrant and perfume the garden beginning in spring and extending into summer. As with other penstemon species, it attracts native bees and hummingbirds. Palmer’s penstemon’s cold hardiness and ability to handle desert heat make it a must-have for landscapes throughout the western U.S.
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Botanical name: Penstemon palmeri
Common names: Palmer’s penstemon, scented penstemon, snapdragon penstemon
Origin: Native to the mountains of the Southwest (4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation)
Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 34.4 degrees Celsius (USDA Zone 4)
Water requirement: Low
Light requirement: Full sun; filtered shade in low-desert regions
Mature size: 1 foot tall and wide; 4 feet when flowering
Benefits and tolerances: Drought tolerant, deer resistant, fragrant, attractive to hummingbirds and native bees
Seasonal interest: Spring flowers in warmer regions, summer flowers in cooler climates
When to plant: Spring and fall from transplants (also winter in zones 9 and above); fall from seed
Distinguishing traits. Gray-green leaves grow along upright stems that are transformed by the appearance of 4- to 5-foot-tall flowering spikes. The leaves are evergreen and have finely toothed edges, giving them a slightly prickly appearance.
Although short-lived, Palmer’s penstemon self-seeds, ensuring new plants to take its place. Its drought tolerance, deer and rabbit resistance, and ability to attract native bees make this penstemon a great choice for fans of native plants as well as for those who love beautiful flowers.
This penstemon’s tall spikes are its truly stunning trait, as they are covered with 1- to 2-inch-wide pale pink flowers. The blossoms are similar in shape to those of snapdragons. In warmer zones, 9 and above, flowers begin to appear in spring and last for several weeks. Blooming in cooler zones occurs in summer.
Because of its arid native habitat, this penstemon is best-suited for gardens throughout the western U.S., as it does poorly in areas that receive a lot of rain.
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How to use it. Plant Palmer’s penstemon transplants toward the back of perennial beds, where the pink flower spikes will form the perfect backdrop for other drought-tolerant perennials, such as angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), germander sage (Salvia chamaedryoides), Latin American fleabane(Erigeron karvinskianus), tufted evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) and gaura (Gaura lindheimeri).
In fall, sow Palmer’s penstemon seed — mixed with the seed from other perennials, such as desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) or Southwestern mock vervain (Glandularia gooddingii) — among native vegetation for a bright splash of warm-season color.
Planting notes. Plant in a location with full sun and well-draining soil. No fertilizer or special amendments are needed.