Foxglove Digitalis

Impressive flower spikes. With its bold, upstanding spikes of colourful flowers, the foxglove is perfect for filling informal or awkward corners in the garden. It is particularly effective among shrubs and under trees,and thrives in sun or shade.

ANNUAL CALENDAR

SPRING

March-early April:

Keep soil around plants weeded and, if soil is poor, apply a dressing of general fertilizer.

Late April-May:

Sow seed in a cold frame (outdoor ‘box’ providing protection) or cold greenhouse.

June-July:

Flowering time.

Heavy rain and strong wind may cause the tallest stems to fall over.

If this happens, stake them to avoid permanently crooked stems. Set out young plants in permanent sites and water in dry spells.

Late August-September:

The first seed pods are ripening. Pick now if you want seeds to sow next spring. Late September-October: If you are growing young plants in nursery rows, transfer to permanent sites.

WINTER

December-February:

Carefully remove any dead or yellowing leaves.

POPULAR VARIETIES

Excelsior’: Massive flower, ‘Foxy’: Similar colour range, ‘Peloric Mixed’: Top flowers spikes 1.8m or more high but rarely exceeds 1m, are fused into upward- Large flowers, spaced evenly, height and, unusually, can be, facing bells.

Around the stem to form a, grown as an annual if sown, ‘Alba’: Pure white, sometimes symmetrical spire. Rose-, under heated glass in March without spots.

Purple to pink, cream and, ‘The Shirley’: Large blooms in, ‘Apricot’: Orange-pink, paler white, all maroon-spotted white, pink and magenta at the mouth.

PICK THE SEEDS

To collect seeds for sowing, pick seed pods in autumn when they are yellow or brown. Dry and shake out seeds into packets for next spring.

If you want to stop foxgloves spreading, remove the spikes as soon as the flowers fade, to prevent the seeds from self-sowing.

There are about 20 wild species of foxglove scattered across Europe to central Asia. The most widely grown is the common foxglove, native to Britain.

The common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, is a biennial. It makes a bold rosette of large leaves the first year and blooms the following summer.

Propagation

The foxglove is always grown from seed. For the best results, sow in rows in a cold frame or in seed-pans or trays of a good-quality potting compost. Sow thinly and barely cover with a little compost through a fine sieve or with coarse sand.

When the seedlings just show their first true leaf (arising between the two original seed leaves), prick off (space out) 3cm apart each way in seed-trays of potting compost. Return to a ventilated cold frame or a sheltered site outside with protection from heavy rain.

Planting and care

When the young plants touch each other, set them out in permanent sites 45-60cm apart. Alternatively, set them out 20-30cm apart in a nursery bed (for rearing young plants) and move to permanent sites in autumn.

Transplant with care and make sure that you retain as large a root ball as possible when digging up. The roots are fine and can break easily.

Once the plants are in their permanent sites, water thoroughly during dry spells, and regularly remove competing weeds that might choke them.

BUYING

All common foxglove varieties are derived from and none are true yellow.

If you would like yellow blooms, buy the related (syn. It has 70-90cm high spikes of soft yellow bells neatly chequered chocolate-brown inside. It is sometimes confused with

D. /urea, which has paler, much smaller blooms.

Foxglove

SITUATION

Partial shade, though foxglove tolerates both full sun and deep shade. Ideally, sheltered from strongest winds.

SOIL

Fertile, well-drained. Will not reach full height in dry, poor soil. Enrich thin, sandy or chalky soils with a 2cm layer of compost, leaf-mould or coconut fibre forked into the top 20cm of soil.

CARE

In spring, weed plants, and apply a general fertilizer. Stake in heavy summer rain. Water in dry spells.

PLANT HEALTH

Foxgloves are remarkably pest and disease free.

Occasionally, caterpillars eat the leaves, and slugs attack the flowers. Hand-pick the pests or apply slug bait.

BUYING

For an unusual colour, try x It looks like common foxglove,’ but it is more compact, 60-90cm tall, and bears flowers of a unique strawberry shade.

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