When is a seed not a seed?

17 March 2013

I’m embarrassed! I thought I’d got the hang of seed saving – at least of the easy types, but I’ve found I’ve got one very wrong. I grew some penstemon last year called ‘Husker’s Red” – It has a dark red leaf and pretty pink flower. At the end of the season it formed some very solid seeds, which I picked and stored over the winter. I sowed some of these two or three weeks back, and I was wondering why none were coming up. On examining some spare seeds more closely, I find that what I’ve planted is a very hard husk, inside of which when you cut it open are …. the seeds! 

Left: penstemon 'Husker's Red'. Right: penstemon 'Tubular Bells Rose'.

Left: penstemon ‘Husker’s Red’. Right: penstemon ‘Tubular Bells Rose’.

While I’m on the subject of penstemon – butterflies cannot use their flowers for gaining nectar, because the blooms are the wrong shape; it’s possible some moths, with their longer probiscus, could do so, but I haven’t seen it. They can be good for bees, though. I came across a reference in a book: The Bee Garden by Maureen Little, that said she’d seen a lot of penstemon in flower somewhere and that the one which drew all the bees was ‘Tubular Bells Rose’. I eventually found them in stock at www.cnseeds.co.uk  (also very good for baby leaf salad seeds) and grew some last year. They are very pretty, and I did see some bees on them (as in the photo), so they come recommended. Like most penstemon, they aren’t totally hardy: I’m still waiting to see if the one I left out has survived, but I took some into the greenhouse, so hopefully they are OK.

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