The Humble Foxglove
Foxgloves are the epitome of English country gardens. They conjure up thoughts of warm summer days, afternoon tea and the sound of plump bumble bees buzzing from flower to flower gleefully gorging on nature’s banquet.
The UK’s native foxgloves are often pink and purple in the wild but many colourful cultivars have been developed to suit every garden border scheme, from white, apricot, yellow to two-tone; their spotted tubular flower heads guide bumblebees in like an airplane runway.
New hybrids are sterile but native foxgloves are quick to self-seed so it won’t be long until these tall spires provide a natural carpet of pollinator paradise in your garden. And with 25 species in the Digitalis genus, there is certainly plenty of choice. Here are a few of my favourites.
Digitalis purpurea, common foxglove
These hardy biennials form a leafy rosette in their first year and flower in the second so a little patience is required. In the wild they thrive in acidic soils and partial to deep shade in woodland, moors or sea-cliffs; although contrary to this they grow like wildfire in my neutral clay soil in full sun!
I first saw Digitalis parviflora 'Milk Chocolate' at the Botanic Garden of Wales and was mesmerized. I had never seen them before but by the frenzy of bee activity generated they were a big hit with pollinators. These grow well in partial shade or full sun and have tightly packed small smokey sepia blooms.
Digitalis ferruginea, Rusty foxglove
Thriving in full sun or shade and happy in any soil type, these statuesque biennials of rusty brown blooms add an antique charm to borders. Their dark, oblong semi-evergreen foliage contrasts with traditional foxglove’s oval-shaped hairy leaves. A fascinating species to grow.
These tall long-lived hardy perennials grow to 80cm and have large yellow flowers in a tasteful hue, which would slip easily into most border designs. Enjoying partial shade and moist soil, they make fabulous cut flowers.
This small primrose-yellow perennial foxglove is perfect for containers. It forms slim spikes, and at 60cm height works well at the front of borders. Shade or sun, this hardy plant will easily naturalise and can be grown true from seed.
Look but don’t touch, foxgloves are toxic to humans, cats, dogs and horses! Although cardiac glycosides are extracted for medicine as a heart-stimulating drug, foxgloves can cause severe poisoning so do not ingest.
I was invited to write this article for Fagus Gardening Club's Fagus Times issue No 15 which is written and edited by Fagus President Mary Payne MBE.
All photos © Debi Holland 2021