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Foxgloves' new faces; more colors, compact growth, repeat bloom.

New faces make foxgloves more versatile, A little to a lot more compact, these plants suit smaller spaces, with sturdy 1- to 5-foot spires less prone to toppling. Three give repeat bloom reliably, one has exceptionally good-looking foliage, and several offer delicate new colors.

Now is the time to plant these spring beauties, old and new alike, so they can take root and grow for the big display in

late April arid May. Of the I I kinds we tested, the 4 shown here are our favorites.

Seven most widely sold choices

For masses of knockout bloom, nothing surpasses the biennial varieties.

Excelsior, 5 feet tall and slightly more densely flowered than plants above right, is a sturdy, showy strain, widely available in sixpacks. Shirley is an older, 6-foot strain with flowers that hang down.

For a more erect, compact plant with more repeat bloom, choose Foxy', shown above. As flowers fade, cut stalks back to side shoots 6 to 8 inches from the ground; each plant can produce three to eight new 1- to 11/2-foot flower spikes. When these fade, cut plants to the ground; sometimes they'll form rosettes that bloom yet again.

For pastels, look for less common Apricot' (it blooms late) and 'Alba' (white). Or, in mixed plantings, let flowers the color you want form seeds, but cut off other stalks soon after flowers open (use these in bouquets). Whether you buy or sow your own seedlings, avoid plants with purplish leaf stems if you don't want dark-colored flowers.

Kinds named above are forms of D. purpurea, all biennials that give peak bloom

only one year, then tend to dwindle away.

The most widely available perennial foxglove is D. mertonensis. Our plants developed single spikes the first year, three to four spikes the second-all sturdy 2- to 3-footers that stayed erect to the last bud. Large, furry flowers open pink and deepen to raspberry. If plants stay too dry after spikes show, flowers may be less vivid. Foliage rosettes are handsome all year in mild climates.

A dwarf selection of the perennial D. grandiflora, Temple Bells' is favored mainly for its gentle yellow color. Widely spaced flowers grow on branching, foot-tall spikes.

What do foxgloves need to thrive?

For best color, strong stems, and longer bloom, give foxgloves morning sun and afternoon dappled light (they need more shade inland). Space plants 15 to 18 inches apart (or cram six or so in an 18-inch pot). The biennials bloom well even in poor soil; for more bloom on these, and for perennials, work quantities of amendments into soil and fertilize at planting time and again in spring.

Ample moisture is best, but plants tolerate dryness surprisingly well until flower

spikes show. From then on, water often.

To encourage vigorous offsets for repeat bloom, cut stems to the ground (or down to side shoots on Foxy', Temple Bells', and other branching kinds) as soon as stalks become unattractively top-heavy. Higher cuts result in weak regrowth.

When the last flowers fade on biennial kinds, save a few sturdy stalks to reseed; pull and discard the rest.

Grab unusual kinds whenever you can

In mild-winter climates, Foxy' and other mixed-color forms of D. purpurea are available in fall. Others may be hard to find until late winter or spring (however, even gallon-size plants started in spring seldom give top performance the first year, especially D. mertonensis). Ask nurseries when they expect to have kinds you want, and buy as early as possible.

Where hard frosts hit before November, wait until spring to plant, and expect most to bloom the following spring.

Seeds of 15 kinds, including ones shown, are sold by Thompson & Morgan, Box 1308, Jackson, N.J. 08527; (201) 363- 2225 (catalog free). Except for 'Foxy' and Temple Bells', seeds sown this late are unlikely to bloom until spring after next.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Sep 1, 1989
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