This rare and lovely foxglove from Spain is one of the very best in cultivation. Digitalis obscura, the Sunset Foxglove blooms from late spring to mid-summer with striking bell-shaped blooms in all the colours of the sunset. Rusty orange and amber with interior red veining and spotting.
Native to the mountains of Spain, Digitalis obscura, commonly called willow-leaved foxglove, is a woody-based, shrubby perennial foxglove that typically grows to 45 to 60cm (18 to 24in) tall. It is more drought tolerant than other species and makes a soundly perennial plant in a hot or dry position.
The flowers are borne in terminal racemes atop leafy flower stalks clad with narrow, linear, glabrous, grey-green, willow-like foliage. Hardy to minus10°C (14°F), the leaves are evergreen in mild climates, but turn brown in colder climates. The upright stems could easily be confused for penstemons, for their flowers as well as leaves.
Digitalis obscura are easily grown and prefers gritty, well-drained soils with not too much compost. It does well in both full sun with dry conditions and also in moister, shadier sites. In hot areas it should be watered deeply but not too frequently and needs very porous, open soil and protection where winters are wet.
If flower spikes are left in place after flowering, plants may self-seed gently. However removal of flower spikes after bloom will encourage a secondary bloom.
Sow indoors: 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.
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 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.
Digitalis is a source of digitalin used in cardiac medicine, it slows the heart. The whole foxglove plant is toxic, no part is edible and if eaten it will cause severe discomfort, in a child or small animal it could cause death. 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.
Shade/Woodland Garden. Cottage/Informal Garden, Cut Flower Arranging, Flowers Borders and Beds, Wildflower Gardens or Wildlife Gardens
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.
Foxgloves originate from parts of Europe, Asia and north-west Africa. They come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes and range in height from 30cm (12in) tall to whoppers soaring above 7ft
There are 25 species and distinct geographic or varietal forms found throughout Central and Southern Europe.
The genus Digitalis was traditionally placed in the figwort family, Scrophulariaceae, but phylogenetic research led taxonomists to move it to the Veronicaceae in 2001. More recent phylogenetic work has placed it in the much enlarged family Plantaginaceae.
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 English name comes not from foxes, but from the phrase 'folks' gloves' because it was thought that the flowers were used as gloves by fairy folk. Another common name is 'Fairy Thimbles'.
The species name obscura simply means obscure. (dusky, indistinct or uncertain.)
Folklore & Legend:
The flower meaning is insincerity – Folklore tells that bad fairies gave the flowers to the fox to put on his feet to soften his steps whilst hunting ! The foxglove was believed to keep evil at bay if grown in the garden, but it was considered unlucky to bring the blooms inside
The National Collection:
The National Collection of Digitalis is held at T.A. Baker, The Botanic Nursery, Rookery Nurseries, Cottles Lane, Atworth, Melksham, Wiltshire SN12 8HU. Tel: 07850 328 756 for opening hours.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 50mg Average Seed Count 125 Seeds Family Plantaginaceae Genus Digitalis Species obscura Cultivar Sunset Foxglove Synonym Also marketed as 'Dusky Maid' Common Name Dwarf Perennial Foxglove, Willow Leaf Foxglove Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy Hardy to minus10°C (14°F) Flowers Orange amber and red veined bell-shaped blooms Natural Flower Time Late spring to mid summer Foliage Green rosettes Height 100cm (36in) Spread 30 to 45cm (12 to 18in) Position Partial Shade to Full Sun Soil Well-drained/light, Clay/heavy, Dry or Moist Time to Sow Sow indoors: March to May
or sow directly outdoors in May to June or Sept to Oct
Germination 2 to 4 weeks at around 20°C (68°F).