California natives, beloved for being drought tolerant and pollinator friendly, do not have a reputation for being showy. Because of that, I'm always working on adding a little extra zing to my garden for April and May, when garden tour visitors come and when everyone pays more attention to plants.
Foothill penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus) has long been a welcome focal point in the garden. This penstemon is the easiest to grow of all CA native penstemons and can frequently be found in the regular nursery trade.
I bought several cultivars over the years and can't rightly be sure any more whether I have 'Margarita BOP', 'Electric Blue', or something else completely different. I've been lucky to end up with one cultivar that reseeds, and have even been able to give away seedlings to friends.
I haven't been quite as lucky with Penstemon centrantifoluis 'Scarlet Bugler'. This penstemon favors sandy soils and likes sharp drainage.
While I've encountered large areas during hikes in the Los Padres mountains, I've found them a bit challenging. But over the years, one of my plants seems to have settled well enough, and who knows, maybe one day they'll look like this.
Penstemon palmeri (scented penstemon) is a more recent purchase from Annie's Annuals. It's one of your "like sharp drainage but might tolerate clay soil" mystery plants - but I won't even mid growing it as an annual, it's that stunning. Just look at the little golden beards, the delicate striping - well worth the trouble, and who knows, it might come back.
Penstemon pseudospectabilis (desert beardtoung) is also from Annies. I had one or two give up in a location with winter shade, but one, planted in the sunny front garden, has been covered with blossoms for week and seems happy even without irrigation.
One of those 3 foot tall and narrow plants that are hard to find.
And beautiful up close.