Digitalis x mertonensis, commonly known as strawberry foxglove or Merton’s foxglove and often called by the marketing name 'Summer King', gets its name from its slightly fuzzy, strawberry pink blossoms set on graceful tall stalks.
This striking and robust plant is a hybrid between the pink flowered D. purpurea and the yellow flowered D. grandiflora. The resulting plant produces bell-shaped flowers in late spring and early summer, which are a beautiful mix of the two shades. Warm pink, speckled flowers that are larger than the traditional foxglove. The compact plants grow to around 90 to 120cm (36 to 48in).
Digitalis mertonensis grows well and looks best in similar situations to the traditional foxglove - in a woodland clearing or amongst trees and shrubs which give it light dappled shade. This biennial comes true from seed. It is an eye catching border plant and lovely for floral arrangements if you can bear to pick it.
Digitalis mertonensis has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Sowing: Sow indoors in March to May or sow directly outdoors in May to June or September to October
Sow seeds on the surface of a peaty soil. Do not cover or bury seeds as the seed needs light to germinate, just press seeds lightly into the earth. Keep seed in constant moisture (not wet) they will usually germinate in 2 to 4 weeks at around 20°C (68°F).
Sow in March to May, 10 to 12 weeks before last frost. Sow seed thinly in trays of compost and place in a cold frame or greenhouse. Once germination occurs keep in cooler conditions. Prick out each seedling as it becomes large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots or trays to grow on. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out once all risk of frost has gone. Transplant to the flowering position planting 30cm (12in) apart.
Sow in May to June or September to October directly in a well prepared seedbed. Sow seed very thinly in drills 30cm (12in) apart. Firm down gently. Keep the plants moist and free of weeds. Thin out the seedlings to 15cm (6in) apart when large enough to handle.
Digitalis purpurea foxgloves are biennial which means that plants establish and grow leaves in the first year, it will send up large spikes, then flower and produce seeds in the second.
As a rule, they are hardy plants and can cope with any soil unless it is very wet or very dry. They are fairly disease resistant, although the leaves may suffer slightly from powdery mildew if the summer is hot and humid.
If you cut the stalk down before it goes to seed, it will generally rebloom through August and, if you wish, you can reseed from the second showing.
Self-sown seedlings producing different shifting, untutored patterns of flowers each year, they can be easily transplanted to the location you want them to bloom. They are best transplanted when the leaves are about 10cm long. Make sure the newly moved plants are watered very well to help them establish.
Cover the flowerspikes with paper bags (such as those used by bakers to wrap baguettes) to collect the seeds. When the seedheads have dried, shake them to remove the seed and scatter them where you want them to grow.
Shade/Woodland Garden. Cottage/Informal Garden, Cut Flower Arranging, Flowers Borders and Beds, Wildflower Gardens or Wildlife Gardens
Digitalis is a classic example of a drug derived from a plant formerly used by folklorists and herbalists. Digitalis slows the heart but provides a source of medicine used by doctors in heart medicine. In pure form are referred to by common chemical names such as digitoxin or digoxin, or by brand names such as Lanoxin, or Purgoxin.
Herbalists have largely abandoned its use because of its narrow therapeutic index and the difficulty of determining the amount of active drug in herbal preparations.
The whole foxglove plant is extremely poisonous. Fortunately it tastes very bitter and causes irritation of the mucous membranes in the mouth, actually causing pain and swelling. It also causes diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, so if it does get in, it soon comes out. Because of these factors, it is not really a problem for wildlife, human or otherwise. However if you ever find a child who has been around this plant with symptoms of oral irritation, grab a stem or two and get to the emergency room.
Wear gloves when handling plants or seeds, plant only where children or animals will not have access.
If foxgloves are grown near most plants they will stimulate growth and help to resist disease and if grown near apples, potatoes and tomatoes their storage qualities will he greatly improved.
Foxgloves in a flower arrangement make all the other flowers last longer - if you do not want the actual flowers in the vase make some foxglove tea from the stems or blossoms and add to the water.
Digitalis is a genus of about twenty species of herbaceous biennials, perennials and shrubs that was traditionally placed in the figwort family Scrophulariaceae. Due to new genetic research, it has now been placed in the much enlarged family Plantaginaceae.
In 1542, Leonhart Fuchs (or Leonhard - 1501-1566), a German physician and one of the three founding fathers of botany after whom fuchsia is named, gave the plant it's current Latin moniker - Digitalis
The name Digitalis is a latinisation of the German name 'fingernut' from the Latin digitus meaning 'a finger'. The flower resembles the finger of a glove.
The species epitaph purpurea was adapted by Linnaeus two centuries later and simply refers to the 'purple' colour of the flowers.
Folklore & Legend:
The English name comes not from foxes, but from the phrase 'folk’s gloves' meaning belonging to the fairy folk.
Folklore tells that bad fairies gave the flowers to the fox to magically sheath their paws as they stealthily made their nocturnal raids into the poultry yards of rural folk. The association is natural for the foxgloves grew on the wooded hillside slopes that foxes chose for their dens. Not surprisingly, the flower meaning of Foxglove is insincerity.
Another common name is 'Fairy Thimbles'. The foxglove was believed to keep evil at bay if grown in the garden, but it was considered unlucky to bring the blooms inside.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 20mg Average Seed Count 200 seeds Family Plantaginaceae Genus Digitalis Species mertonensis Cultivar Summer King Common Name Merton's Foxglove Hardiness Hardy Biennial Flowers Warm pink, speckled flowers Natural Flower Time May to July Foliage Mid green, hairy lance shaped leaves Height 90 to 120cm (36 to 48in) Spread 45 to 60cm (18 to 24in) Position Sun or shade. Soil Prefers moist, humus-rich soil Time to Sow Sow indoors in March to May or Sow directly outdoors in May to June or September to October Germination 2 to 4 weeks at 20°C (68°F).