leonie cornelius


Foxglove | The Fairy Flower

June is a wonderful time for our native hedgerows and borders. In many places all over Ireland there is an explosion of magenta-speckled, pink spires which brighten up even the dullest roadside. Almost everyone will recognize this stunning flower that sends spires of colour upwards and has such an elegant and yet impressive show of bell shaped flowers in late Spring and Summer.

The Foxglove, or Digitalis, is one of my favourite plants of all time. Every year at Showgarden festivals one can be sure to find many gardens featuring this stunning plant. From the subtle native purpurea variety to the more showy white and maroon speckled ‘Pam’s Choice’ and the silvery hues of the Alba varieties, there are so many colours and varieties to choose from. The plant pictured here is out native purpurea variety, one that will be instantly recognizable to most people.


Within garden design I am a big fan of this flower for many reasons. I love the shape of this flower-the elegant way it rises out of a border and gives height and elevation to a scheme. The plant also adds a touch of naturalism to schemes that can sometimes feel a bit too formulaic. This is the reason why many designers who have a contemporary approach to their planting design introduce spires of Foxgloves to their scheme. The plants hint at a certain wildness, a native planting style and give verticality and undulating softness to a design.

From early summer these beautiful flowers will spire upwards, rising from rosette bases. Often growing in groups, these short-lived plants will add fantastic height and self seed freely if given the right conditions. These flowers have a tendency to cover vast areas of ground, especially where it has just been cleared or places where trees have been cut down.

A spot with a bit of dappled shade is perfect for these flowers, though having said this, in my own garden they often pop up in the many sunny spots and do really well too.  Foxgloves are biennial, which means that the first year they will not flower but build a cushion of fleshy basal leaves. Then in their second year, they will put on their show of colour, with flowered spires-some rising to 1.5 metres in height-in impressive pinks, yellows, whites.

Some say the name Foxglove is said to have developed from the original term which was ‘Folksglove’ with folks originally meaning fairies. There are many stories about the Foxglove and often they feature fairies. They are said to live inside the flowers and the reason the flowers bend so gracefully is that they are bowing in deference to all beautiful beings who pass them. Folklore also says that Foxgloves keep evil at bay when grown in your garden but are however considered unlucky when brought into the house.

One interesting fact about this plant is that medicine made from the Foxglove is used to treat cardiac or heart problems. It is strange to think that though its powerful medicine has saved thousands of lives, the plant itself is extremely poisonous. Fortunately, ingesting the plant immediately causes diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, so it is actually quite hard to poison oneself with it. It is however still not a plant I would grow where small children play. I always think education and awareness is everything as so many plants in our gardens and the wild have poisonous properties.  When working with them in your own garden it is definitely a good idea to wear gloves, particularly  when you are cutting the innocent looking flowered spikes back to the base after flowering.

Leonie Cornelius Photo by Colin Gillen

How to:  growing and caring for your Foxgloves 

Sowing the collected or bought seeds is actually fairly easy, making them a great plant to experiment with. If you want to grow them then indoors you can grow them in a peaty soil from March to May. Alternatively if planting directly outdoors you would do this from May to June or September to October. The soil should be moist and well prepared without any competing weeds. Press the seeds lightly into the soil and keep moist but not wet.

Caring for these plants is fairly easy, if you grew them indoors, when they are large enough to handle thin out your plants and plant them in their final spot. Once the flowers have finished blooming and you would like to collect the seeds then I would advise putting a paper bag over the top of the flowers to catch the seeds. If you would like the plant to rebloom again in August then you can simply cut off the stalk when they finish flowering.

Remember also to apply a generous mulch of organic matter in Spring to get the most colourful and impressive displays from your fairy flower.

Plant source Woodies Ireland

Sowing the Seed

Leonie Love’s 

Foxgloves are very easy to sow yourself and if you’re a fan of this wonderful flower this is a great way to starting your own collection. I love the many varieties available and there are some that many people would not even recognize as the Foxglove.

-The stunning Mediterranean ‘Rusty foxglove’-Digitalis ferruginea is a fascinating plant that spires elegantly upwards in thin candle shapes. It has smaller, more delicate blooms than the purpurea and these are packed tighter together.  The leaves are also more narrow and lance shaped and  rise up the full stem where on the purpurea there are just the odd leaf on the stem. The rusty peach colour is really eye catching and not as common as it should be in our gardens. A wonderful rich shade.

-Another favourite that I am planning on growing next season is the Digitalis parviflora ‘Milk Chocolate Foxglove’, a plant that will stop you in your tracks with its deep rich chocolate tones and the rich foliage which works so well with the blooms. This variety is from Spain and makes excellent cut flowers. It’s actually one I’ve never seen in a garden here so definitely a talking point.

-An truly elegant variety is the gorgeous Digitalis ‘Dalmation White’. These flowers are great planted into a dark corner of the garden where they bring a bit of light and elegance. I love planting these on their own with ferns and grasses for maximum impact. There is nothing like those spires of white bells set off by rich green.

All these varieties and many more are available to order from the wonderful seed collector site www.seedaholic.com


Photo By: Colin Gillen

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.