What does it say about me that my favourite garden plant is deadly? Digitalis, also called Dead Mans Bells, Bloody Fingers and Witches Gloves is toxic but beautiful. A few years ago a US woman poisoned her husband by adding foxglove leaves to his salad. He became violently ill but survived. I guess the guy wasn’t handy.
I prefer to call by them by their more endearing name, Foxglove. Also called Virgin’s Glove, Fairy Caps, Folk’s Glove and Fairy Thimbles, this cottage garden flower is a key reason my secret garden looks magical this morning. I grew all the foxgloves in my collection from seeds in the greenhouse…many of them ordered from Plants of Distinction in England. Some of my favourites are Candy Mountain Peach (see, not a sinister name at all)…the bells face upwards in this one, Camelot cream with its densely clothed stems of Guernsey cream bells, Elsie Kelsey, with its beautiful snow white bells and a raspberry jam lip and obscura with a nodding red-veined yellow flower from Spain. Heywoodii is of the palest of pinks with heavy freckles with densely packed bells on a dwarf plant. Mertonenisis is also a very fine hybrid reproducing truly from seed with its crushed strawberry bells…I could go on.
They are virtually maintenance free and hardy. It took some patience as most are biennial. I had to nurture my seedlings, harden them off, plant them and wait another whole year to see their bells. They will grow in a number of soil types as long as there is good drainage. Most are hardy to zone 4.
Once your foxgloves are blooming let them for for as long as you can. Your goal is to allow the plant to go to seed and for the seed to dry so it can be scattered around the garden. Yes please. I love the unkempt look of the garden with self-seeders.
Bees love foxgloves and their blooms are entirely dependent of the visits of this insect. The projecting lower lip of the corolla forms an alighting platform for the bee and as he pushes his way up the bell, to get at the honey which lies in a ring around the seed vessel at the top of the flower, he rubs on the pollen. A single foxglove can provide from one to two million seeds. This particular plant is a whopper with beautiful markings towering above my head. They love the dappled shade of my secret garden although they will tolerate full sun.
I love they way their dramatic spikes of tubular flowers with speckled throats add elegance and height to my garden.
Foxgloves are pretty darned handy. They are used to produce the important heart drugs digitoxin, digitalin, digitonin and digitalenin which are extracted from the leaves. The drug increases the activity of all forms of muscle tissue, but more especially that of the heart and arterioles, the all-important property of the drug being its action on the circulation.