Schooling the foxgloves

White foxgloves, though at Tikorangi, not Hidcote

White foxgloves, though at Tikorangi, not Hidcote

An enduring memory of our visit to Hidcote Manor Garden in Gloucestershire was a simple planting of white foxgloves. They stood like grand white sentinels, belying their humble botanical status. A packet of white foxglove seed was top of the list on our next seed order.

Common foxgloves – and the white is just a form of the common Digitalis purpurea – are not difficult to grow. Not at all. We let some pink ones seed down through the park and in outlying garden areas. I think our widespread, dismissive attitude to foxgloves has to do with an earlier rural orientation in this country where such plants are seen as noxious weeds. But we are not farmers, so some seeding wildflowers naturalised on our property are not a problem, adding to biodiversity and providing a food source for insects.

Common Digitalis purpurea seen here with Rhododendron Caroline Allbrook

Common Digitalis purpurea seen here with Rhododendron Caroline Allbrook

???????????????????????????????The whites I wanted for my rose and perennial garden. After a few years, I am now moving them. They are too big and choke and swamp the smaller perennials I have in that area. I have found a couple of spots which they can have all to themselves. I was amused to see English gardener, Keith Wiley – for whom we have huge respect – on TV talking about growing plants in colonies but noting that some plants are so dominant that they do not want to grow in colonies. He cited foxgloves as an example. They are way too thuggish to co-exist happily with many other plants.

I could have saved myself a lot of trial and error if I had looked to the ground where the Hidcote foxgloves grew and taken note of what else did or did not grow there and how much space each huge rosette of leaves occupied. Instead, I was so enchanted by the summer display at eye level that I failed to observe further.

???????????????????????????????Carol Klein on BBC’s Gardeners’ World, once said that she sorted her foxgloves as juvenile plants – the pink ones had pink veining in the leaves and the crown whereas the white ones were all green. I am not convinced she is right though I went through a stage of culling all pink-veined seedlings. I am happy to stand corrected if somebody has been more systematic in assessing this, but I am pretty sure that I have pink-veined ones flowering white and vice versa.

What I can tell you from experience is that foxgloves have very large tops but small root systems so are easy to transplant even when quite large, as long as I reduce the foliage by anything up to 75%. They are tough. I am hoping by next year to have my white Hidcote sentinels flowering in abundance in positions where they can be glorious without smothering other plants.

Seedling variation showing a white centre to the common purple

Seedling variation showing a white centre to the common purple

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3 thoughts on “Schooling the foxgloves

  1. phlip46

    Hi Abbie, oh how I love foxgloves too. I adore everything about them, especially watching bumblebees having a whale of a time buzzing around inside their flowers. It always makes me smile when I see a bumble trying to get into a flower that is too small for it’s size! They look perfect in amongst my huge collection of hardy cranesbill geraniums too. I’m in the process of establishing a lot more around my garden, in all sorts of colours! Smiles..

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      What a lovely image. We have some pale yellow ones we are building up. I think I bought the seed from Trade Me. You must be southwards if you can do good cranesbill geraniums. We have a few but they are nowhere near as good as we have seen them in the UK. They seem to prefer a colder winter than they get here.

  2. Pingback: From foxgloves* to foxtail lilies – eremurus | Tikorangi The Jury Garden

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