Friday 27 April 2018

In bloom this week: foxgloves

Add magic to your garden with this enchanting flower, writes Leonie Cornelius

Leonie Cornelius with a foxglove. Photo: Colin Gillen
Leonie Cornelius with a foxglove. Photo: Colin Gillen

Leonie Cornelius

Almost everyone will recognise this stunning flower, which sends spires of colour upwards and has such an elegant and yet impressive show of bell-shaped flowers in late spring and summer.

The foxglove, or digitalis, is one of my favourite plants of all time. Every year at show garden festivals, one can be sure to find many gardens featuring this stunning flower. From the subtle native purpurea variety to the more showy white and maroon-speckled Pam's Choice, and the gorgeous variety Silver Fox (pictured), this is such a rewarding plant for any border.

From early summer, foxgloves will spire upwards from their rosette bases. Often growing in groups, these short-lived plants will add fantastic height to borders and self-seed freely if given the right conditions. A spot with a bit of dappled shade is perfect, although that said, in my own garden they often pop up in the many sunny spots and do really well, too. These plants are biennial, which means that the first year they will not flower but build a cushion of fleshy basal leaves. The Silver Fox variety - which I picked up at the Powerscourt Garden Pavilion in Wicklow ( - has lovely downy silver ones. Then in their second year, they will put on their show of colour, with flowered spires, some rising to 1.5m in height, in impressive pinks, yellows and whites.

Some say the name foxglove is said to have developed from 'folksglove', with folks originally meaning fairies. There are many stories about the foxglove that feature fairies. They are said to live inside the flowers, which bow gracefully in deference to all beautiful beings who pass them. On a more scientific level, medicine made from foxglove is used to treat heart problems. Though it has saved thousands of lives, the plant itself is poisonous. It is dangerous if ingested by pets and you should always wear gloves when you are cutting the spikes back to the base after flowering.

Remember also to apply a generous mulch of organic matter in spring to get the most colourful and impressive displays from your fairy flower.

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