Garnet Penstemon'Andenken an Friedrich Hahn'
or 'Garnet' Beard Tongue

"The flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
In the days of long ago,
Ranged where the locomotives sing
And the prairie flowers lie low"

-Vachel Lindsay
(1879-1931)

   

Penstemon species' collective common name is Beard Tongue (also rendered Beardtongue, or Bearded-tongue). Three Bearded Tongue cultivars grow along the fence near the mail box, 'Ruby' Beard Tongue which is one of the reddest of the red penstemons; 'Sour Grapes' Beard Tongue with deep lavender-purple blossoms; & the present 'Garnet' Beard Tongue with wine-red blossoms May through October or even longer.

'Ruby' & 'Garnet' are so close to the same that there'd be no way to tell which is which if their tags were lost, hence somewhat pointless to have planted both if varied effect were the purpose. Seeking distinctions between them, it could be said that 'Garnet' has ever so slightly darker flowers due to a hint of blue in the red, & 'Ruby' has larger flowers though not so much larger as to make much difference.

Both 'Garnet' & 'Sour Grapes' bloom for us well beyond our first few morning frosts. The above photo is from August 2002; the second photo is from June 2003. 'Garnet' & 'Sour Grapes' both tolerate more moisture or less well-drained soils than other penstemons, though sharp drainage is still by far the best.

Garnet Penstemon'Garnet' is known in much of Europe as 'Andenken an Friedrich Hahn,' but changed its name in France to 'Jupiter' & in England & America to 'Garnet' merely to be more marketable. The variety dates to 1918 Switzerland & was distributed throughout the world from Dutch growers; it is today grown world-wide.

It has finer leaves & compact appearance with slightly smaller flowers than most penstemons, blooming deep red late Spring to Autumn. It is cold-hardy in the ten to twenty degree range. Like a lot of penstemons it can be grown below Zone 7 as an annual, but is a tender evergreen perennial (not too tender) here in Zone 8. Really it is very hardy in our zone, but considered tender because relatively short-lived, weakening after a few splendid years.

Deadheading helps insure rebloom to autumn's end on Puget Sound, but 'Garnet' is even likely to rebloom after permitted to go to seed. The seedpods have a degree of charm, & since self-seeding is possible, it is a good idea to let at least the late-season blossoms turn to pods.

The Royal Horiticultural Society bestowed upon 'Garnet' the highly coveted Award of Garden Merit. It is hardier than most penstemon varieties, some of which can be overly susceptible to root rot, heat damage, & other problems that render them shortlived in the garden. 'Garnet' is more forgiving of imperfect conditions, but should still be given some little protection from excess heat & cold.

Garnet Penstemon Of all our penstemons 'Garnet' has a particularly vibrant winter presence & never quite goes dormant. A few young leaves can be taken from time to time to fry in butter with potatos or with eggs. It is particularly amazing to have fresh green penstemon leaves even in December & January. However, having expended some energy even in winter makes it slower to start blooming again at the start of summer, 'Garnet' regaining full flower when nearby 'Ruby,' 'Sour Grapes,' & 'Bashful' are already going full guns.

Penstemons need very little water, so the soaker-hose is arranged in order to not quite reach them. We don't offer them much fertilizer either; a single feeding of slow release in spring is sufficient, if even that. This is because, by encouraging slower growth, they last longer in the garden, but if often fertilized & encouraged to thicken up too swiftly, they are shorter lived. Fertilizer encourages root & leaf growth without much increasing the flowering strength, so their lives are shortened without benefit of additional color.

Though 'Garnet' was bred to be longer lived than most garden penstemons, it will nevertheless in time just naturally tire itself out, in the same way as do so many delphiniums & columbines, which for all their hardiness are after a few years done for. If most penstemons last three or four years, 'Garnet' lasts six or eight, occasionally longer.

If dug up & divided every third or fourth year, the divisions might revitalize as new clumps, but also may never perform as well as if fresh starts were created from cuttings. It might have some chance of self-seeding & thereby persist in the garden, but the genes of penstemon "drift" & seed-grown specimens don't necessarily look quite like the parent.

Continue to
Penstemon barbatus 'Bashful'

   



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