BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine
Our fantastic foxglove trial results
Tom Brown, Head Gardener of West Dean Gardens in Sussex, grew 65 foxglove varieties last year and here he reveals the best performers
Mother Nature shows us that foxgloves, or Digitalis, are incredibly easy to grow, as she generously peppers our countryside with them from May to July. The seed itself is inexpensive to buy, or you can collect your own this year once the flower spikes have dried – just turn them upside down in a paper bag to hear the tiny seeds cascading out. Bees and other pollinators enjoy their flowers too. With this in mind, I trialled about 65 different foxgloves at West Dean Gardens last year to find the best.
Digitalis purpurea is the botanical name for what you and I would call the common foxglove. Most of the plants that I trialled belonged to this species, but I also tried some other species that offer so much in terms of garden performance, often growing well in difficult conditions.
You can buy mature plants now from garden centres and nurseries, and they should flower the same year. My tip is to give them plenty of water to settle them in, because if they dry out after planting it can slow them coming into flower and reduce their height.
You can also grow foxgloves from seed very easily. Sow them in May or June on the surface of sieved compost, in a small pot or tray, for flowers the following year. The seeds and young plants need protection from severe summer heat, so put them in a semi-shaded spot where the temperature remains cool and constant. I’ll share more tips on this next issue.
I sowed my foxgloves in June, then put the pots on a table under a shady tree. I placed a piece of glass over the pots to retain humidity, which helps germination. I then pricked them out and potted them on when they were large enough. Digitalis purpurea varieties are very hardy and can be planted out in October. The others are slightly more tender, so keep them frost free over winter and plant out in spring. I planted mine in prepared soil in an open site, so they all enjoyed the same conditions.