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Foxgloves Are For You, Maybe

In the Old World there were fairies who befriended the creatures of the forest. Sympathetic to the plight of foxes, they made gloves of a woodland flower for them to wear when they raided local hen houses, making it easier to sneak in without being heard. And so the locals began to call that flower "foxglove".

Digitalis purpurea, a native of Ireland, gets its scientific name from the latin words for finger and purple, which describe the shape and color of this common form. An extract of a yellow species, digitalis lanatae, is used for digoxin, a heart medication which increases contractility of the heart and slows the heart rate. Remember that all foxgloves are highly toxic if ingested.

This beautiful flower grows two to five feet tall in moist, acid soil in sun to partial shade, zones 4-8. They sometimes live in zone 9 if given plenty of moisture and no afternoon sun. If you want to kill a foxglove, plant it in an exposed area with poor soil! While there are perennial forms, most foxgloves are biennial, meaning they grow the first year, then flower and produce seed the next, then die. I have had a number of foxglove volunteers in my garden, but I usually buy a few each year to add to their numbers. Foxgloves can be propagated by either seeds or division in early spring. My dream is to have a path through the woods, surrounded on both sides with foxgloves. It hasn't happened yet. I think my soil is a little too lean and dry in the summertime for them to truly prosper.

The taller foxgloves may need staking. I use thin strips of old panty hose to tie mine to slender bamboo stakes, painted dark green for camouflage. It is worth the bit of extra work to keep them upright. (The stretchy fabric of old hosiery also makes a great tie for other plants that require staking.)

With good growing conditions, foxgloves are a wonderful addition to a woodland or cottage setting. Beware, however, if you have pets or children that might eat them. And watch out if you have a hen house! 


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Reader Comments (17)

I love foxgloves as well they are great plants that add some nice height to the perennial garden. I have a few but I want many more :D

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Without doubt a staple of many English Gardens, I love them and would never be without them, don't forget they're also loved by Bees and other insects (at least here they are, since they're native)

They very readily self seed around gardens, so don't be surprised if you end up with many more.

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterliz

Fascinating! I never knew the story behind how foxgloves got their name. As I have a hen house, if I plant foxgloves, seems I'd need to have a word the fairies first! They would make such pretty gloves though.

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

Hi Deb - beautiful post. I love the look of a foxglove inside. It looks like a little map for the bees. A landing strip. I grew them one year, but they didn't self-sow. I think we are too dry

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGloriaBonde

They really are such a beautiful flower ... I just adore the creamy white one at the bottom of this post. These are not a flower that grows in my part of the world and I so enjoyed your photos.

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBernie

I love Foxgloves, constantly on the lookout for different colors! Your garden is so beautiful & much farther along than mine!!

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Lovely foxgloves! I've never been able to grow them, but I admire them very much.

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Foxglove is such an interesting flower, and now I will always think of it as "Purple Finger" as well. I used to grow these in my old Zone 7 garden but haven't tried them here in Zone 9. I did see them in a border at Bok Tower yesterday, along with delphiniums and snapdragons. I think those are all grown as cool-season annuals here, but now I'm wondering if foxglove might be worth a try in the right conditions.

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFlorida Girl

I love foxglove -- it's so elegant and so cottagey at the same time. I wish I had about a hundred more!

Beautiful photos.

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSweet Bay

Deb, I'd forgotten how beautiful foxgloves are. I think they are fairly short-lived down here on the Gulf Coast, but I'm sure I've seen them in our garden center. Another plant to add to my wish list for when I have some more shady areas.

April 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

I love,love, love foxglove! I always thought a woodland walk lined with them would be wonderful as well Deborah. They do not self seed weel for me, probably the ton of mulch I put down, but I buy plants every summer for next years bloom. Will never be without them!

I never knew how they got their common name! They really add wonderful structure at the back of the garden for me. I planted the biennial and the perennial. The perennial are yellow, but to me it's a very washed out faded color, I'm much happier with the purple, and I can so picture those lining your woodland walks!

April 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

Hello Deborah, what a wonderful post - the story behind the name of floxgloves is enchanting! Thank you also for the information on growing conditions - I've just sown my first Foxglove seeds and I think I Iive in an area that roughly equates to zone 9 (still not 100% sure on that) so now I've got a much better idea of what to expect!

April 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi

Yay..wonderful spotlilght on Foxglove..one of my faves!! Beautiful post..and such gorgeous photos!! Always a treat to visit! I cant wait for all mine to be in bloom this year! yay!

Happy gardening!

April 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKiki

I love foxgloves, they remind me of my grandmother's garden and all the old time flowers she used to grow.

April 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkeewee

They are such a wonderful old fashioned flower that add such a statement to a perennial border. Never knew the common name - how sweet. Great shots of the yellow flowers.

These are all getting ready to bloom here and I am soooo excited! I love these things.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJess

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