Foxy Foxgloves Reach for the Sky

These flowers add vertical drama to any garden.

Foxgloves Inject Color Underneath Woodland Birch

Foxgloves Inject Color Underneath Woodland Birch

Foxgloves add dramatic color to the garden, especially at the back of a flower border.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Foxgloves add dramatic color to the garden, especially at the back of a flower border.

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The sight of foxgloves every spring reminds me of my first visit to London nearly 20 years ago. There, rising from practically every quaint garden in the English countryside, were spikes of flowers that I’d never experienced very much back in the States: delphiniums, lupines and, yes, foxgloves.

I couldn’t wait to get home and experiment with some of the latter in my own little garden in Atlanta. Soon, I was surprised to find how easy they are to grow.

Foxgloves have an interesting culture and history. A member of the genus Digitalis (referring to the ease with which one of its little tubular flowers can fit on your fingertip), foxgloves technically are biennials, meaning that in their first year the plants leaf out to form a rosette close to the ground, followed the second year by a spike that blooms before the plant dies. In some colder climates, however, they’re grown as short-lived perennials, while in warmer ones, gardeners tend to treat them as annuals, setting out mature plants in spring (or sometimes the autumn before for a head start). The plants also are used in the production of heart medications, such as the well-known Digitalis.

Once established, foxgloves grow 2 to 5 feet tall producing numerous tubular flowers, starting from the base of the stalk and rising to the top, in colors from purple and pink to a yellowy cream and pure white. Because of their height, they make ideal back-of-the-border plants, especially attractive when planted in front of a fence.

One of the greatest attributes of the plant is that they can tolerate partial shade in the afternoon, brightening a less-than-sunny area of the garden with sparkling color, which hummingbirds love. Give foxgloves acidic, well-drained soil (plants are susceptible to crown rot) that’s rich in humus.  And space them adequately apart to promote air circulation because powdery mildew and leafspot also can be a problem.

After their flowers fade, deadhead the spent bloom, leaving the crowns in the ground. If you’re lucky, your foxgloves may return the next year for a command performance.

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