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YOUR GARDEN: FOXY LADIES; Fall in glove with wild perennials.

Byline: Edited by Adrienne Wild

FOXGLOVES can add an irresistible wildflower charm to any garden and make great partners for roses and old fashioned cottage garden perennials.

They can be used to add height to borders and can be cut for flower arrangements, lasting for several weeks in a vase.

Although attractive, the pinkish purple of the wild foxglove has been improved by gardeners over the years, by selection and by crossing with other species.

Most popular of all are the Excelsior hybrids. These are lusty garden plants that look good in any garden.

They come in pastel shades of pink, purple and cream as well as white and are heavily spotted. To fit with terracotta colour schemes that are very much in vogue at present, look out for the rusty brown flowers of the species digitalis ferruginea and the bold purpurea hybrid Apricot.

Far prettier in my book, is Suttons Apricot that is creamy pink and looks good with buff coloured musk roses or woven through yellow foliage shrubs or the glaucous grey leaves of euphorbias, melianthus and crambe.

In a small garden or for planting in the middle or front of flowerbeds try the short variety Foxy. With an ultimate height of about 3ft this plant is half the height of the outstanding Excelsior foxgloves but will give speedier results and can be brought into flower from a March sowing in just 16-20 weeks. Start the seeds off on the windowsill and plant them out with the summer bedding after the frosts.

For the biggest flowers, then you must grow digitalis grandiflora that produces waist-high spikes of primrose yellow blooms above rosettes of green leaves. The insides of the blooms, which as the name implies resemble individual fingers of a glove, are marked in a net-like pattern of pale brown lines.

You can buy foxgloves in pots already in flower now but why pay over pounds 2 for a plant when you can grow hundreds from seed for more or less the same price. A single flower spike is said to release about a quarter of a million seeds.

The seeds, which are sown during June or July, should be surface sown or covered with only a very thin layer of perlite so light reaches them.

Once they have become large enough to handle, prick them out into individual pots.

They are ready for planting out into their flowering positions in late summer and will give a good display the following June or July.

In future you'll see that your patch of foxgloves has multiplied and as the seed can travel considerable distances it will maybe spread to places where it shouldn't. They self-seed profusely so if you don't want lots of free plants, dead-head immediately after flowering and enjoy a second flush of flowers on shorter side shoots in late summer.

If you want seedlings to colour-match your flowerbeds, note that only the purple stalked seedlings of digitalis purpurea have purple flowers and the others have white.

Foxgloves thrive in soil that's been enriched with lots of organic matter and in partial shade. Failing that, they'll grow well in almost any situation, except in very wet or very dry ground.

Finally, a word of caution, whilst beautiful, foxgloves are poisonous. Digitalis purpurea is a source of the digitalin, a cardiac stimulant, and handling them without wearing gloves may cause skin irritation.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 22, 2003
Words:564
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