Romantic, dramatic foxgloves are a must in a country garden. We get tips from florist Kitten Grayson and House & Garden UK editor Clare Foster on how to grow them.
Is there any flower that is such a staple of the English country garden than foxgloves, with their tall, striking stems covered with thimble-shaped blossoms? Toxic to humans and animals thanks to the substance digitoxin, which affects the heart, they have often been associated in folklore with magic and witches, with nicknames like witches' fingers or witches' hats, and were commonly thought to attract fairies, although they are now more prized for their ability to attract bees and butterflies – something we should all be trying to do more of in our own gardens.
When to sow foxgloves
There are many species of foxglove (Digitalis) around the world, though the most common and well-known is that native to Europe, Digitalis purpurea, a biennial that produces flowers in various shades of pink, purple and white. Self-seeding, the plant is capable of perpetuating itself, but June is the perfect time to sow foxglove seeds. Once the seedlings are big enough, transfer them to individual pots - allowing them to grow on for planting in autumn. By nature woodland plants, foxgloves don't mind a shady situation, but will also grow in full sun. Deadheading the flowers will encourage a second flush.
"I'm obsessed with foxgloves. They're such magical, nostalgic flowers and the ones we were most excited to grow. ― Kitten Grayson
Flowering from May to July and growing 60–90cm tall, Digitalis grandiflora is a continental species that is more reliably perennial than D. purpurea. It will return year after year if it is happy in its situation, preferably in a humus-rich soil in light shade, although it will also thrive in a sunny situation. Digitalis grandiflorais easy to grow from seed. Sow direct outdoors in late summer or autumn or under cover in early spring on the top of moist compost.
Which foxgloves to plant
Florist Kitten Grayson has been growing heaps of foxgloves at her new cutting garden near Bruton in Wiltshire: "I'm obsessed with foxgloves," she says, "they're such magical, nostalgic flowers and the ones we were most excited to grow." Kitten's favourite varieties include D. x mertonensis (Strawberry foxglove), D. purpurea 'Sutton's Apricot', the unusual Digitalis lanata or 'woolly foxglove' and Digitalis purpurea ssp. heywoodii, 'Silver Fox', and the lovely white D. purpurea 'Pam's Choice' with its dramatic purple splotches.
Although Kitten mostly uses them for dramatic arrangements or simple bunches of foxgloves alone, she recommends planting them in a border with lots of plants at different heights to support them. "They’re a big feature in a garden, so you want quite tall things to support them, and then shorter things around them to back them up." These may include ammi, viburnum, peonies and sweet rocket. Our garden editor Clare Foster has planted a loose, naturalistic, self-seeding front garden at her house in Berkshire featuring Digitalis grandiflora alongside white centranthrus, ammi, nigella and hollyhocks.
This story originally appeared on House & Garden UK.