Penstemons are really remarkable. They are tough native plants which like infertile, well-drained soil, limited water, and a full sun exposure. Note however, that they do not like clay.

While the ranch is well provided with infertile areas with limited water and full-sun exposures, there IS a lot of clay. That being said, there are also a number of areas that are rocky or gravelly.

The goal here would be to try and establish some reproducing populations of penstemons, particular the rarer types. As a first experiment, I obtained some Penstemon strictus from Heron Landscaping. The location was behind the retaining wall to the north - which certainly fit every requirement! These were planted in October of 2020. The same vole baskets that I use for the balsamroots were used here as well.

Penstemons using 8" vole baskets grouped by a rock

To be honest, I didn't expect much. Frankly, this is a hot, dry, and unforgiving site (as an aside, until I tried the penstemons the only thing that really seemed to like it here was a buckwheat I finally decided was snow buckwheat Eriogonum niveum, see below).

Snow Buckwheat (Eriogonum niveum)

HOWEVER, the Penstemon strictus did great. Two of them bloomed the first year (see image below, the other is similar), and they just were AMAZING the second year (see the second image below as well). Note that the growing season of 2021 was excessively dry for the whole season. 2022 started out with a very wet spring, only to transition into an unusually dry (and unusually extended) summer. I wasn't quite willing to risk no supplemental water at all, but they didn't get much. Both years, they received limited supplemental water perhaps every two weeks during August and September.

Penstemon strictus - year one (spring 2021)

Penstemon strictus - year two (2022)


The great success of the Penstemon strictus led to a planting binge in Fall 2021 of various penstemons. These were obtained either from Derby Canyon Natives or from Heron Landscaping.

The list is:

Penstemon barrettiae (Barrett's penstemon)

Penstemon eatonii (Firecracker penstemon)

Penstemon newberryi (Newberry's penstemon)

Penstemon pinifolius (Pineleaf penstemon)

Penstemon richardsonii (Richardson's penstemon)

Penstemon wilcoxii (threatened in Washington, hope is they will self-seed in this location, they are planted the furthest away from the camera in the driest location)

Penstemon fruticosa (Shrubby penstemon)

Ipomopsis aggregata (Scarlet gilia)

Images of most of these are below (before planting):

Penstemons planted fall 2021

Here are the post-planted images. Everything with a vole-basket or a vole-ring is a penstemon. (For the curious, the plants to the left along the edge of the retaining wall are NOT native - these are daylilies and they are irrigated ... hardcore native plant enthusiasts can pretend they are not there. Note also they end about halfway up in this image, while the penstemons continue. You can also see scattered Eriogonum niveum everywhere. These self-seed into the area from the slope to the right.)