Conservation Plant March 2019

Penstemon ’Margery Fish’

This is another of the new introductions to the Scheme from 2018, suggested by Hampshire Group.
Penstemons are a wonderful addition to the summer garden, flowering from early June for many weeks into the autumn. Penstemon ’Margery Fish’ was awarded an AGM in the RHS Penstemon Trial at Wisley in 1992 and was displayed at an HPS event ‘Look Who’s in the Garden’ in 2000. In recent years it has become hard to obtain with only 3 nurseries listing it in the RHS Plantfinder 2018 although the Hampshire Group member who was trying to buy a plant found that only East Lambrook Manor garden could offer a plant for sale. She has been growing it since 2017 and taking cuttings to local plant sales where it has proved popular.

In the HPS booklet ‘Penstemons’ by David Way (reprinted December 1996), the author suggests that P. ‘Margery Fish’ resembles Pheterophyllus from California as the species provides “more bluish tones than most other penstemons”. Way and James in the1998 book ‘A Gardeners Guide to Growing Penstemons list it as a”a variant of P. heterophyllus“. It is thought that it was named for Margery Fish rather than by her, but I have been unable to trace the person who introduced this plant.

Penstemon ’Margery Fish’ AGM is a hardy, semi-evergreen perennial with narrow, slightly glossy leaves and slender dense panicles of purple-tinged pale blue flowers up to 3cm in length. It is easy to grow in any good garden soil in sun or part-shade although will not thrive in heavy or waterlogged soil. The foliage may be damaged by slugs and snails and the plant may occasionally be affected by a downy mildew.
Propagation is best from cuttings which may be taken throughout the summer. Older plants can become woody and prone to wind rock in winter – cuttings can be kept undercover to ensure new plants for the following season. In spring when the danger of frost has past penstemons should be cut back hard to keep plants neat and encourage new growth. Regular dead heading through the summer will prolong flowering and shape growth to produce a bushy plant which will look good towards the front of the border.

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