I posted pictures of Penstemon ‘Catherine de la Mare’ last year, and based on the photo, I’m sure you will understand why this plant name stuck in my head and went on my “Plants I NEED” list.
Penstemon ‘Catherine de la Mare’
The photo is from Wakehurst Place in England back when I interned at Kew in 2004 and all these years I have hoped to find Miss Catherine here in the states.
Here she is in all her glory planted with a Ballota pseudodictamnus. Incidentally the walled garden at Wakehurst Place remains one of my top favorite gardens to this day. I hope to get back there for another visit some day.
Penstemons are hugely popular in England and from what little I could find about this cultivar I am assuming it is a P. heterophyllus sport or hybrid selected in England. It has an Award of Garden Merit from The Royal Horticulture Society and was apparently named after the daughter-in-law of English poet Walter de la Mare (This should also clear up any confusion of the spelling of the cultivar name. I have seen the last part of the name listed as Mare, Mere, Mar, and Mer.) I wasn’t even sure I would be able to find it here in the states.
I was very happy back in 2010 when I found plants labeled as P. ‘Catherine de la Mare’ at Grow Native Nursery in Westwood and bought three one gallon plants for my friends garden that I was designing in West Los Angeles. I was a bit suspicious though. Would this in fact be the same plant I saw at Wakehurst?
Well, you be the judge. Here is the plant in bloom about six months after being planted.
What do you think? I was a little uncertain because I thought it was supposed to be a P. heterophyllus cultivar and it seemed pretty beefy. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the leaves of the English plant but I remembered them being a bit more oblong and strappy in shape and the flower color isn’t really right.
Of course for all I know this could just be because of the wildly different growing conditions between southern England and Los Angeles. The quality of light is quite different between England and California too though I did see each plant in person and the colors were as different in person as they appear in the photos.
Even if it didn’t look exactly the same I was thrilled with the way the plants behaved. They are in poor compacted soil and after an extremely wet winter they went through various stages of over and under watering over the course of the next year and all grew like gangbusters. The above picture is of one of the one gallon plants after being in the ground for a year. But as you could see from the six month blooming photo they were already huge.
I thought of taking cuttings for when I moved up to Los Osos for my own garden but I just never had time. So I continued to keep a lookout for plants going under the name of ‘Catherine de la Mare’.
Well I found two! But they are a teeny bit different from each other.
The first one I picked up at a local hardware store and it is from wholesaler Growing Grounds. It reminds me of the plant from Grow Native that I planted at my friend’s place in Los Angeles. In fact it is entirely possible Grow Native got their plants from Growing Grounds.
The second is a smaller plant that I mail ordered from Dancing Oaks Nursery in Oregon (great selection and quality by the way, and they sent me a few free plants which is always awesome and much appreciated). It has the more lance like leaves that I remember the one in England having, with red margins and red stems. I guess it is possible it will beef up once it is older but it seems like a distinctly different plant to me.
What do you think? I am really curious to see how they will turn out when they bloom and will be posting pictures as soon as they do. And maybe if I see P. ‘Catherine de la Mare’ from other sources I’ll buy those too. You can’t really go wrong with purple Penstemons though so I’m sure they will both be beautiful.