Updated: Dec 11, 2020
“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” ~May Sarton
Foxglove, a Cottage Garden Classic
Foxglove or digitalis are one of my favorite garden flowers. A cottage garden classic with large bell shaped flowers rising on 3-6 foot stems, like steps to the sky. Perfect in the middle of your garden bed sweeping up into your hollyhocks and sunflowers (two other must have favorites).
What is So Special About Foxgloves
First, they are stunning, there is nothing quite like them. They bloom from late spring to early summer and thrive in full sun or dappled shade. The are pollinator-friendly, a favorite with butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Most are a short lived perennials or biennial and self seeding
They come in a wide range of wonderful colors, and sizes from 3-6 feet tall. I'm personally biased toward the taller the better. If you are as well, be sure to check the labels on any starts you buy as more often than not they are the shorter 3 feet varieties. They are deer proof and largely pest resistant.
Favorite Varieties In My Garden
I just planted three new starts in my garden this past weekend and I am experimenting with growing a new Hummingbird Foxglove variety from seed. The picture a
bove is from my garden last summer featuring one of my favorite varieties Digitalis purpurea Camelot Rose. It comes in both deep rose and light pink (both above). This variety is a standout because it is one of the few that comes back with a second bloom in the same season after the old flowers are cut back and even more robustly in its second year. Another favorite is Digitalis purpurea Snow Thimble, an elegant snow white variety. Beautiful, right?
What They Love
Foxgloves prefer acidic soil (add limestone or wood ash to raise the acidity) and need 3-4 hours of sunshine a day. They love a good dose of rich compost or worm castings after planting and plenty of mulch to keep their roots cooler and slow the soil from drying out. Most foxgloves (digitalis) are biennial, with their super bloom in year two after spending the first growing season developing their root system. I'm not as organized or as disciplined as I should be, and often put them in whenever I have an opening in my garden and the varieties I
love are available. However, for the strongest blooms, sow foxglove seeds in the spring so that they have all fall and winter to establish their root system for a bloom in their second summer. If you are good at keeping a garden journal you can make sure to always have a mix of first and second year bloomers every spring. My favorite gardening journal is the Day One App as I can carry it with me everywhere in my garden and journal every time I take a photo. Cut the stalks back after all of the flowers are spent or leave them to dry as you get closer to the fall to save the seeds.
Enemies and Pest
For the most part, foxgloves are remarkably pest resistant, which may have something to do with being poisonous (see warning below). However, some varieties, if they are planted to closely together, are susceptible to powdery mildew, mealy bugs, and slugs. Keep the base of the plants free from debris that slugs can hide under and remove any leaves that are effected.
Bumble Bee Love
Foxglove (digitalis) are some of the best early bloomers for attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, and other beneficial insects to your garden. And they are designed to get exactly what they need. Their deep tubular-shaped flowers are rich in nectar and covered in fragrant, sticky pollen. However, they have cleverly evolved to entice one pollinator in particular: bumblebees, their favorite pollinator. The long tubular flowers draw the bumbler in and the narrow flower forces the them to draw in their wings and get completely covered in pollen before departing. Especially varieties in shades of violet to blue, bumblebees favorite flower color.
Where do they come from
Foxglove are native to the Mediterranean, parts of Europe, western and central Asia, and northwestern Africa.
Garden Tip and WARNING
I had to forgo having these wonderful flowers in my garden when my children were young and still putting anything they could get there hands on into their mouths, as all parts of the Digitalis plant are poisonous. They can also be poisonous to other livestock including chickens. This same quality also makes them an important and powerful medicine in treating heart diseases. My grandfather had severe Angina when I was younger and never went anywhere without his digoxin pills in case he had an attack.
All About Foxglove by Denise Seghesio Levine, U.C. Master Gardener of Napa County
Plant a Flower to Save a Bumblebee by Richard Hassall, PhD student studying the ecology and evolution of bacteria in natural host populations.
Plant of the week: Foxglove 'Leopardskin, The Guardian