My fancy plants have arrived! I’ve had such hit-and-miss luck with plant starts sent through the mail that I pretty much swore off them this year. I’ve either grown things from seed (another hit-and-miss effort, but that’s a different story) or bought them from local nurseries. But when we ran a photo of Phoenix™ series penstemon on the cover of Northern Gardener in March/April, all my resolve evaporated.
Penstemon–its common name is beard tongue–is a huge genus of plants with ranges as far north as Alaska and as far south as Central America. It includes about 275 species, including the perennial Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’. This was Perennial Plant of the Year in 1996 and is a familiar sight in northern gardens. In fact, there are two or three Husker Reds in my garden as well. The Phoenix series penstemon are an annual in Minnesota. They look like a cross between a snapdragon and a foxglove. They are heat tolerant, produce lots of flowers, and often are used in bouquets. I bought two types from Territorial Seed Company, Appleblossom and Pink. You can read all about penstemon at the American Penstemon Society web page.
A quick note on planting starts: Most come with instructions that you should follow as carefully as you can. Usually this involves watering the plants as soon as they arrive and getting them in the ground as quickly as weather permits.