Everything you need to know about growing foxgloves

Emma-Louise Pritchard
·5-min read
Photo credit: Jacky Parker Photography - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jacky Parker Photography - Getty Images

When it comes to planting, growing and caring for foxgloves in your garden, digitalis devotees Terry and Mary Baker of The Botanic Nursery in Wiltshire are experts, with 40 year's experience. Here, we ask them everything from how to grow foxgloves from seed, where best to plant your foxgloves and whether or not foxgloves flower year after year.

Did you also know that foxgloves are poisonous? Keep reading for the symptoms to look out for.

What is the foxglove's appeal?

Everyone loves foxgloves, especially the native Digitalis purpurea in all its coloured forms, so gardeners are happy to try some of the more obscure sorts, particularly when they find they are perennial. The plants have a natural elegance largely unchanged by hybridists, so are versatile enough to use in many different styles of garden.

Foxgloves flower early summer and their natural habitat is woodland edges, roadside verges and hedgerows.

Foxgloves are great for adding height to a planting scheme and are often synonymous with a 'cottage garden' style.

Where is the best place to plant foxgloves?

All foxgloves prefer good air circulation, so avoid areas that are densely planted. The biennial forms of purpurea are highly effective when grown among roses, both in informal beds or with shrubby kinds. They also look good beside woody plants, notably spring-flowering shrubs in mixed borders or woodland clearings. The remaining species are ideal for gravel gardens, Mediterranean-influenced planting or in the front of beds.

Can foxgloves be grown in containers?

Yes, especially the smaller sorts and the species varieties. The striking flowers of Digitalis purpurea ‘Pam’s Split’, with their speckled throats and distinctive ruffled appearance, are a great talking point and make a beautiful centrepiece for a summer tub, or try D. purpurea ‘Primrose Carousel’ or ‘Candy Mountain’. D. purpurea Foxy Group gives a range of colour and, at only 60cm high, is also well suited to containers. They are all prima donnas and don’t like competition, so team them with something that will grow out and over the edge of the pot, such as types of ivy, Malvastrum lateritium (with its apricot mallow-like flowers), trailing petunia or lobelia.

How to grow foxgloves from seed?

Collect seed when it separates naturally from the pods. Sow straightaway and don’t cover with compost. Or keep in a cool, dry place until ready to sow. Stored this way, seed remains viable for decades. Prick out and grow on in pots when large enough and plant out when conditions allow. Seed can be sown from January to September; early sowings will require some heat but later ones do not.

Photo credit: Eriko Tsukamoto - Getty Images
Photo credit: Eriko Tsukamoto - Getty Images

How do you look after foxgloves in their first year? Do they flower?

First-year flowering is a tendency found in foxgloves that do not require vernalisation (winter cold) to promote blooming. Varieties sown in early spring will flower the same summer: the seed can usually be saved to grow on more plants for future years, or allow them to self-seed in the garden. Hybrid kinds that are often infertile will need to be re-propagated from commercially produced purchased seed. Both sorts provide the wonderful effect that digitalis create, and are great for those who haven’t yet got foxgloves in their garden and don’t want to wait a whole year to enjoy them.

Do foxgloves come back every year?

Purchase or grow on a few plants for two years running and let them self-seed in open sites, saving some seed each year to sow yourself for planting out when large enough. Within two seasons you will have self-perpetuating colonies of foxgloves in your garden. This ensures flowering every year rather than every second year.

What are the most interesting varieties of foxglove?

We admire them all equally but like to devise what we call ‘cameo plantings’, or groupings that enhance the attributes of a small selection of plants. So we might use D. purpurea ‘Pam’s Choice’ with its maroon-chocolate throat markings to complement the similarly coloured flowers of Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’, together with Aquilegia ‘Roundway Chocolate’ against the silvery ferny leaves of Tanacetum niveum ‘Jackpot’.

Are foxgloves poisonous? Can you die from touching a foxglove?

Foxgloves contain toxic cardiac glycosides and are very poisonous to humans and animals. If any part of the plant is ingested, a reaction can occur. Symptoms include nausea, headache, skin irritation and diarrhoea. In the most serious cases, visual and perceptual disturbances and heart and kidney problems are also possible.

8 foxgloves varieties to try

1. D. purpurea ‘Snow Thimble’ – Pure white flowers. Prefers sun or part shade. Will come true from seed when grown in isolation. Up to 1.2m. BUY NOW

Photo credit: Lynn Keddie
Photo credit: Lynn Keddie

2. D. purpurea ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ – Beautiful biennial with pale apricot-pink flowers. Likes part shade. Self-seeds. Reaches 1.5m. BUY NOW

Photo credit: Lynn Keddie
Photo credit: Lynn Keddie

3. D. ‘Glory of Roundway’ – Tall, upright spikes of small, pale pink flowers with apricot to pale yellow throats. Grows up to 1m.

Photo credit: Lynn Keddie
Photo credit: Lynn Keddie

4. D. parviflora – Perennial with dense spires of brown flowers with a purple-brown lip. Prefers sun but will tolerate part shade. Just under 1m. BUY NOW

Photo credit: Lynn Keddie
Photo credit: Lynn Keddie

5. D. purpurea ‘Pam’s Split’ – The distinctive split lip gives an orchid-like appearance. Up to 1.5m. BUY NOW

Photo credit: Lynn Keddie
Photo credit: Lynn Keddie

6. D. lutea – Perennial with delicate ivory to primrose spikes of bell flowers. Grows to 60cm. BUY NOW

Photo credit: Lynn Keddie
Photo credit: Lynn Keddie

7. D. purpurea ‘Primrose Carousel’ – A dwarf foxglove with pale yellow blooms dusted inside with purple freckles. Grows to 75cm. BUY NOW

Photo credit: Lynn Keddie
Photo credit: Lynn Keddie

8. D. cariensis f. trojana – Delicately veined flowers with coffee coloured streaks inside; 40cm.

Photo credit: Lynn Keddie
Photo credit: Lynn Keddie

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