The common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, is probably one of the most important native plants we grow in our gardens - beloved of cottage gardeners through to modernist designers.
It’s easy to grow and adaptable, enduring even dry shade, as well as sun as long as the soil’s moist.
Long flowered from May, it reliably and dramatically provides height and drama to any planting scheme, without taking up precious space, enabling it to be threaded among other perennials and shrubs or beneath trees.
It’s also a magnet for bees, so good for wildlife.
Digitalis purpurea grows throughout western and central Europe, where it has given rise to a number of different forms, including silver-leaved G. grandiflora heywoodii from Iberia.
Generally biennial or a short-lived perennial, the foxglove produces a coarse, leafy rosette in the first year or years, then an imposing 1.8m (6ft) or more flower spike in the second. In the wild, the flowers are usually tubular and a pink-purple in colour, with darker spots on the lower lip of the tube. The spikes are usually one-sided, but in cultivation hybrid flowers are often produced around the spike.
It self-seeds prolifically, soon swamping plantings unless plants are removed before the capsules ripen. Thinning out seedlings also helps, or move them in autumn to new sites.
White variety ‘Alba’ will come true from seed, but it’s easily contaminated via cross pollination with the normal form, which will need to be successively removed until you get a pure breeding population. Sow plants in cool spring temperatures or from late summer for flowering the next year.
Best foxglove plants
Classic white-flowered form, with speckled throat. Sterile pure-white form ‘Snow Thimble’ is even more delightful, but won’t self sow. H:1.8m (6ft) S: 60cm (24in) From: www.thompson-morgan.com
Sumptuous full spikes of white flowers with strong maroon speckling or blotching on the throat. Imposing effect. H:1.5m (5ft) S: 45cm (18in). From: www.crocus.co.uk
Heywoodii Silver Fox
Smaller, compact white-flowered form with felted silvery-grey leaves. Lovely among white or pastel plantings. H: 70cm (28in) S: 45cm (18in) From: www.chilternseeds.co.uk
Rick pink-purple flower spikes with strong speckling in the throat. Other forms in rose, white and peach. Will flower in first year from early sowing. H1.2m (4ft) S:45cm (18in) From: www.mr-fothergills.co.uk
This sport from the wild is the first yellow variety to grow from seed. Compact habit, producing multiple spikes. H: 80cm (31in) S: 40cm (15in). From: www.thompson-morgan.com
Gorgeous peachy-pink flowers clustered along one-sided spikes. Good for contrasting with dark, brooding colours. H:1.2m (4ft) S 60cm (2ft). From: www.suttons.co.uk