Fabulous Foxgloves

Foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea, are one of those fabulous plants which look great in the garden, work in difficult shady areas to provide colour, and are vital in providing nectar-rich towers of food for long-tongued bees. 

Reaching a height of 1.5 to 2 metres, foxgloves are great statuesque plants which will add strong vertical interest to the middle and back of borders.

What makes the profusion of tubular shaped blooms on a foxglove so interesting is that they unfurl from the bottom of the flower spike first, working their way up opening to the top of the tower. Each spire of flowers can produce up to eighty individual blooms and while they can be admired from afar, getting up close and personal with the blooms really allows you to see the intricate speckles inside many varieties.

Foxgloves prefer to be planted in a partially shaded area which allows a great boost of white, pink, and purple shades of colours to be added to areas which are often harder to manage. They prefer the soil to be moist but not water-logged and apart from that, foxgloves are really low maintenance, hardy plants.

Foxgloves are biennial plants which means they grow a basal rosette of green leaves in the first year and then send up the statuesque flowers spires in the second year. These then set seed and die but if you let them, they will freely self-seed all around to start the process again. Foxgloves are profuse self-seeders so you can end up with loads of flowers for free if you allow them to self-seed. It is also easy to gather the seed from the dead seed head to seed them where you would like them to grow.

To plug the gap between the flowering years of foxgloves, the solution is to plant foxgloves two years in a row in order to have foxgloves every summer. The one you buy in the second year from the garden centre will give you a show this year while the small seeds which have self-seeded from last year’s foxglove grow around it in this year. These self-seeded plants grow on and produce the blooms next year while this year’s plant after blooming, self-seeds and dies, thus starting the cycle again! Just carefully remove last year’s dead foxglove and pop the new one in the space without disturbing the self-seeded foxgloves which hopefully have germinated in the soil.

Removing spent foxglove flowers may encourage another show of blooms, although these will not be as tall as the first spikes but it means you can get another burst of colour later in the season. This will, however, deter self-seeding but you can simply collect the spent growth as this is where the seeds are and shake them into an envelope for storage or shake them over a seed bed to germinate. Leave the flowers on the second flush of blooms so they can self-seed.

If you do not have a fabulously showy foxglove in your garden, try one in a shady spot at the back of a border and wait to be amazed at the prolific floral display on these skyscraper stems! And if you have time to sit with a cuppa and watch, you’ll be further amazed at the amount of bees who will stop by and pop deep into the tubular, bell-like flowers. 


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