Growing foxgloves

Posted: Friday 5 July 2013
by Kate Bradbury

My foxgloves are finally flowering. Well, some of them are – they’ve been particularly slow to bloom this year, as they’re normally in flower by late May.

Digitalis purpurea, foxglove

My foxgloves are finally flowering. Well, some of them are – they’ve been particularly slow to bloom this year, as they’re normally in flower by late May. Like everything else in the garden, I assumed they were set back by the cold spring (there were barely any foxgloves at Chelsea this year).

But over the last few weeks, I’ve seen lush foxgloves growing on railway and motorway embankments, in parks and other people’s gardens. Each time it made me think of my reluctant foxgloves at home, without flower spikes, and I’d sulk.

I have to admit to not being the best foxglove mother, though. A few had self seeded into a pot of mint, with which they were competing for water and nutrients. Some were growing (or at least attempting to) under a large clump of honesty, while others were clumped together at the back of the border.

I've always loved foxgloves. I remember being small and looking up into the huge trumpet blooms, being surprised by the speckled patterns on the inner petals you can’t otherwise see. I love the velvety look of the flowers, and I love watching bumblebees disappear into them, emerging a few minutes later covered in pollen.

My stock of foxgloves has built up slowly over the years, after one self-seeded in the garden of a former home. When I’m organised, I position a pot of compost beneath the plants, so when they drop seed it lands straight into the perfect seedbed, which I can transplant later on. Some seed always finds its way into the pot of mint, or onto my green roof, so I move those seedlings somewhere more suitable.

I’ve not been organised this year. Just three weeks ago I got around to separating the congested clump growing at the back of the border, clearing the bit of honesty concealing other rosettes, and relieving the pot of mint from its intruders. I watered and fed the newly transplanted foxgloves, and said encouraging things to them. I waited, and continued to sulk over everyone else’s spectacular displays.

Although late, my efforts weren’t in vain. Suddenly there was one flower spike, and then another. I now have five foxglove spires dotted around the garden, complete with velvety blooms with specked markings, hiding pollen-covered bumblebees. It’s not the best display I’ve ever had – the plants are a little small and weedy compared to previous years, but at least they’re flowering.

I’ll be more organised from now on. I’ll prepare the pots of compost for seed to land in, transplant seedlings in good time, and keep them well watered and looked after, with plenty of time to establish before they flower the following spring. I’ll also continue to water and feed them and say encouraging things. Anything to get them to flower like everyone else’s. Promise.

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oldchippy 05/07/2013 at 14:21

Hi Kate I transplanted my seedlings only to find Verbascum's have come instead,they look just as good and seed every were,so it's not surprising I got them mixed up,trail and error more error on my part. Oldchippy.

Newcastle 05/07/2013 at 16:23

Mine are growing quite nicely too Kate. The clay soil seems to suit the pretty well. One thing you do have to watch I have found is that you have to watch they don't take over the whole garden as they seed like mad.I am having go at Verbascums for the first time this year although there will probably be no flowers till next year specially in view of the cold and wet Spring. I have found Alliums are helping to give borders some height although I think quite few of the ones I have been raising in containers have succumbed to the cold and the slugs. At least the weather seems to be improving now so hopefully I should get something useful done in what remains of the Summer.
I am debating whether to give up on a veritable clutter of pots with sees sow last year - some my well have rotted over the Winter but even now I am occasionally seeing some green shoots emerging and having to decide whether what I planted has actually germinated or whether I am unlucky and they are simply self-seeded weeds. All part of the excitement I suppose!

damien 23/07/2013 at 21:40

My foxgloves where not so good this year, some bloomed well but other's just gave a small spire and that was it, the weather change that we just had probably didnt help, but I do love Foxgloves

The potty gardener 25/07/2013 at 07:32