Native foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) grow freely around our garden and we love them. In general we are very happy to just allow them to grow and flower where they seed themselves and if they are in the wrong place they are easily moved or removed.
However, there are also some named varieties which add a real wow factor to a herbaceous border. Two of our favourites are ‘Elsey Kelsey’ (pictured above) and ‘Apricot Delight’.
Foxgloves are biennials and we would normally sow these around the time of the summer solstice and grow them on for planting out around the autumn equinox. The plants will then grow on and establish in the flower beds over winter to flower the following May and June. We find them very trouble free and not generally attacked by pests or diseases.
Elsey Kelsey (also known as Pam’s Choice) has huge long spikes of flower which reach 7-8 feet in our garden. The white flowers have densely speckled maroon throats and are loved by the bees who are constant visitors.
Last year we planted Elsey Kelsey in front of a climbing pale yellow rose (Rose ‘The Pilgrim‘) which created a stunning combination.
Also in the same bed we used a combination of the Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’, the pale yellow Sisyrinchium striatum and a deep blue/purple lupin (probably ‘The Governor’) to extend the colour palette towards the front of the border.
A second named variety of foxglove worth mentioning is ‘Apricot Delight’ (also known as ‘Sutton’s Apricot’). This is not quite as tall as Elsey Kelsey but has really dense spikes of pale apricot flowers. It still works well when combined with climbing roses (here shown with Rose ‘Constance Spry‘). In my view the pale pink and apricot sit beautifully together and are complemented by the brick red lupin ‘My Castle’.
The Latin name for the genus Digitalis comes from the Latin digitus meaning ‘a finger’. Each individual flower on the spike resembles the finger of a glove. According to Seedaholic (where there is a wealth of fascinating titbits on a wide range of flowers) the English name of Foxglove does not come from foxes but from the phrase ‘folk’s gloves’ meaning belonging to the fairy folk. Another common name is fairy thimbles (British flowers names can be so enchanting!).
It is worth noting that the whole foxglove plant is extremely poisonous and it is worth wearing gloves when handling plants or seeds.