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Saving foxglove seeds


by Kate Bradbury

Last spring I found a foxglove seedling in a pot, which had presumably self-seeded from a neighbour's garden. Excited, I potted it on and nurtured it in anticipation of seeing it flower this year.


Ripe foxglove seed podsLast spring I found a foxglove seedling in a pot, which had presumably self-seeded from a neighbour's garden. Excited, I potted it on and nurtured it in anticipation of seeing it flower this year. (Foxgloves are biennial, so flower in their second year before setting seed and dying.)

This was no mean feat: I moved house twice, then turned its final resting place - my new little courtyard - into a building site for six months while transforming it into a garden.

With each flagstone and bag of sand I lifted, sorted and freecycled, I reminded myself of the end goal: a beautiful garden where my foxglove could flower, set seed and make baby foxgloves. I imagined a sea of digitalis in years to come, alive with the sound of unseen bumblebees delving deep into their many nectaries. I wondered what colour this parent plant would be, praying it would be white, or at least purple, but definitely not 'apricot'.

I finally planted it out in January when the topsoil arrived. Normally I wouldn't recommend jolting a plant out of its comfortable pot into some frozen snow-covered ground, but this was a ceremonial planting, which (I hoped) would symbolise the success and glory of my new garden.

In March it started to produce lots of healthy foliage and a flower spike. Although the immature flowers had a disturbing apricot hue, I was ecstatic when they eventually turned out to be bog-standard purple. Beautiful.

Foxglove seeds are best sown fresh. They're too tiny to handle comfortably, so it's a good idea to just place a pot of moist compost beneath the flowers to catch the seeds when they fall. You can transplant them when they're bigger.

Hungry green caterpillar eating foxglove flowerI dutifully placed a pot of compost beneath the plant. But then disaster struck.  Munching away at the flowers and unripe seeds, was a fat, green caterpillar. I've no idea what the caterpillar was; there are so many green caterpillars, and not all of them are the small cabbage white. I grudgingly decided that butterflies and moths are far fewer in number than foxgloves, and a new foxglove might just as easily self-seed in my garden as this one did last year.

The caterpillar certainly had a good feast - my partner and I made regular checks on it and found that it was getting through a flower an hour. But there are some seedheads remaining. My sea of digitalis might be more of a puddle, but that little foxglove did not self-seed in vain.



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Gardeners' World Web User 02/07/2010 at 22:32

Why on earth would you 'diss' the apricot foxgloves? My seed pods never look like those pictured above do - they get green and and plump, and then in a day or two they shrivel and are gone - very disappointing.

Gardeners' World Web User 02/07/2010 at 23:00

Hello InsaniD I think that seed pod you can see is the caterpillar. I have lots of foxgloves,so much so that i have to thin them out often.the white and purple have made a lovely delicate pink one.I am going to collect these seeds and sow them myself insted of letting them self seed as I have the others.This pink one is so pretty.I dont think I have seen Apricot ones,the purple ones are common in my part of Yorkshire.

Gardeners' World Web User 02/07/2010 at 23:09

InsaniD I must be more tired than I thought,I have just noticed the top photo of seed pods when I scroled sorry.I think I had better go to bed,it's been a long day.

Gardeners' World Web User 02/07/2010 at 23:34

I am told skimea japonica require both male and female plants to produce berries. Yet I have one olympic flame which has always produced berries and this year has been by far the most prolific.

Gardeners' World Web User 02/07/2010 at 23:41

Sorry I've just posted a comment in the wrong place - must be the heat!

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