In the first year they sleep…


Late in the summer of 2014 I was at my sister’s new house in Hertfordshire and admired an inherited Penstemon flowering profusely in view of her kitchen window.

Conscious of how very pink my garden is, I thought a lilac Penstemon would work well late in the year with my Aster frikartii ‘Monch’ and Caryopteris x cladonensis ‘Heavenly Blue.’  I snaffled a few cuttings, put them in a plastic bag and travelled back over land and sea to the Isle of Wight.  Once there I planted them in gritty compost and later potted up the healthy cuttings into 9cm pots.

In the spring I planted them out in the Swing Beds and waited for them to add a late summer lilac explosion.  It never came.

All in all I consider Penstemons pretty easy and was a little disappointed (not to mention embarrassed) at the no show of (what I now have identified as) my ‘Stapleford Gems.’  And then last weekend I was walking along the pebbly path to the left of the left hand Swing Bed and there, growing completely horizontally, was just one perfect Penstemon flower head, demonstrating exactly the metallic purply blue colour I’d remembered.IMG_9658

And the title?  Coincidentally, talking to a gardening friend on Saturday, I heard a phrase I’d not come across before relating to perennials, which made me feel a little bit better:

“In the first year they sleep, in the second they creep and in the third they LEAP.”

So, maybe two more years until my lilac explosion, but I’m prepared to wait.Photo courtesy of










7 thoughts on “In the first year they sleep…

  1. AnnetteM

    I love Penstemons, though I haven’t seen that variety before. I have one that is definitely easy to propagate – well by splitting off rooted bits anyway. I haven’t tried taking proper cuttings. I will remember your rhyme when I try that next.

  2. Sam

    I’ve not heard that before but it makes sense. It’ll be interesting to see what they do next year, flower-wise. Lovely colour – I like the dark stems in the last photo.

  3. pbmgarden

    I like penstemons and yours is very attractive. I’ve had mixed results with them with some being very profuse bloomers and others barely making a show at all.

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