How To Grow Foxgloves

WARNING:All parts of the foxglove plant contain highly toxic alkaloids. In fact, the woolly foxglove (Digitalis lanata) is commercially grown as the source of digoxin, the widely used heart drug, which is administered to patients with weakened heart muscles to strengthen or normalize an irregular heartbeat.

Foxglove-foxglove_in_gardenThe Foxglove is a wonderful, statuesque plant; much appreciated in cottage garden situations, where their elegant stance towering above the range of annuals, bi-annuals and perennials adds beauty and height to the rich pattern of the garden. 

These tall erect plants, bearing long tubular flowers in a range of lovely shades ranging from white, pink, rose, lavender, and lemon through to purple, some having a combination or two or more colours, are certainly well worth growing.

On the inside of each flower, conspicuous spots of crimson, burgundy or chocolate, interlining the throat and in all cases the individual flowers are about the size and shape of a thimble. The origin of the botanical name, Digitalis, is based upon the Latin word digitatus for finger. Perhaps this is because the thimble-like blooms fit a human finger in the way a thimble does.

The common English foxglove D. Purpurea (Scrophulariaceae) can easily attain a height of 4 - 5 ft. (120cm- 150cm) the purple flowers with crimson spots inside the flower can be seen in hedgerows during June and July.

The parents of the ones in my own garden just simply appeared several years ago. I was delighted to see them and their seeds produced the next generation and so it continues. Some years the seeds produce a number of white flowers, which many people prefer. I on the other hand, like the pale purple and the darker shade of purple. If I did prefer the white I would make sure that the purple plants are not allowed to shed their seeds, but I simply allow them to self-seed and wait to see what I get. Strange but they are never invasive, there are never too many seedlings, just about enough for a wonderful display in the future. That first introduction also sowed the Foxglove appreciation bug in my mind and in the subsequent years I have also added some of the hybrids to my collection.

Foxgloves are biennial; the leaves form a rosette the first year followed by the flower spike the next year. There are some excellent hybrids on the market with florets carried all around the stem. Most are shorter growing than the common foxglove some are dwarf form, with lovely pastel shades of pink, cream, and peach, though there are some stronger colours particularly good are the deep salmon and orange. If conditions are good many of the hybrids behave as short-lived perennials.

SOILS: Foxgloves prefer a nitrogen-rich sandy loam soil, well drained, in partial sun to full shade. The taller growing ones, because of their tall floral spikes, benefit from a somewhat sheltered location where they are protected from wind. On more exposed sites, plants can be staked. A spike that is blown over will usually continue to flower along the ground, but will turn abruptly upward near its end, giving it a contorted form. The dwarf varieties should be planted to the front of the border of course where they are able to show off their beauty.

CULTIVATION: It is possible to buy Foxglove plants growing in pots; these should be planted 14-18 in. (35cm-45cm) apart. The more popular way of starting your collection of Foxgloves is to grow them from seed. Start biennial foxgloves from seed in summer for bloom the next year.

Perennial foxgloves can be started by dividing and resetting clumps in early spring or autumn, but are more commonly grown from seeds. Sow the seeds in mid to late spring to get flowers the following summer. To prevent overcrowding, divide clumps after three or four years of flowering.


'Apricot' Hardy Biennial. An outstanding introduction producing large spikes of a lovely shade of Apricot. A most unusual and sought after colour. Excellent for the border in sun or part shade, and very useful as a cut flower. Flowers early summer.

'Foxy' Hardy Annual. 'Foxy' is an ANNUAL foxglove. If sown indoors late winter/early spring it flowers in summer. 'Foxy' is a dwarf variety, invaluable for exposed sites in shades of pink to white with contrasting mottled throats.

'Excelsior' Hardy Biennial. A most effective and spectacular strain of Foxgloves superb for shady shrub and tree areas, back of borders and excellent for cut flowers. They can really bring the early summer garden alive! Flowers early summer. Height 5ft.

'Primrose Carousel' Hardy Biennial. This is the first primrose-yellow Foxglove coming true from seed, which has the exciting bonus of large claret-speckled flowers which are borne all around the stem, a unique attribute in Foxgloves. Plants are approximately 30in high.

'Temple Bells' Hardy Biennial. Bright, sunlight yellow foxglove blooms for fully 2 months of summer. Although a hardy perennial, it flowers just a few months after sowing. Lovely in borders, rockeries, wild gardens in sun or part shade. Flowers summer. Ht. 30-40cm.

'Glittering Prizes' Hardy Biennial. A much sought after old traditional foxglove with flowers much larger than usual which are delightfully and exotically splashed and mottled in a good range of rich colours, purple, lilac, cream, white and rose.

'Digitalis/Mertonensis'. Hardy Biennial. Dwarfest spikes of large tubular blooms of crushed strawberry and shiny deep green foliage.

'Yellow Foxglove' (Digitalis grandiflora), Hardy Herbaceous Perennial. Spikes of sulphur yellow 2in blooms netted chocolate brown. Likes sunny or shady sites.

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