Digitalis purpurea var gloxinioides is a magnificent strain of Foxglove, raised in the late 1880’s in Shirley near Croydon in Surrey by the late Rev. H. Wilks, to whom we are also indebted for the Shirley Poppy.
Growing to a height of around 150cm (5ft), the dense spikes of blooms in a wide range of colours and unlike some varieties, are borne all the way around the stem. Ranging in colour from the purest white to dark rose, handsomely spotted and blotched with crimson, maroon and chocolate, they are held horizontally and display the heavily spotted throat markings to better advantage.
With a wonderful colour range, they are a most effective and spectacular strain of Foxglove that flowers from late spring throughout summer. Fully hardy, plants can withstand temperatures down to -15°C (5°F). They are superb for shady shrub and tree areas, back of borders and excellent for cut flowers and can really bring the early summer garden alive.
Pronounced gloks-in-OY-deez, the species name means ‘resembling a Gloxinia’. The gloxinia genus is named for Benjamin Peter Gloxin, an 18th century German botanist. The blooms of this variety resemble the Gloxinia plant which feature large tubular, open flowers.
- Awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit
In 1993 Digitalis purpurea var gloxinioides was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
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.Digitalis purpurea subsp. heywoodii is from southern Portugal, where it grows on granite outcroppings.
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”
Pronunced gloks-in-OY-deez, the species name means resembling Gloxinia. The gloxinia genus is named for Benjamin Peter Gloxin, an 18th century German botanist.
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
Reverend William Wilks (1843 - 1923)
The Reverend William Wilks was a notable British horticulturalist and clergyman.
Following education at Oxford University, William Wilks served as Curate in the parish of Croydon. In 1879 he became the incumbent of the parish of Shirley. During his 30 years in Shirley, new church schools, a men's institute and a new organ chamber were built, a cricket club was formed and a sports field purchased.
Wilks attained some fame as a horticulturalist and in 1867 The Royal Horticultural Society welcomed The Reverend Wilks as a Fellow. During his 25 years of service he instituted the Wisley Trial Grounds and Chelsea Flower Show.
He served as one of the most distinguished Secretaries of the Royal Horticultural Society, and the ornate wrought iron gates at the Society's garden at Wisley commemorate him. In 1912 he was awarded the highest honour of the Society, the Victoria Medal of Honour in Horticulture.
His most famous horticultural work concerned the breeding of the Shirley Poppy. Wilks noticed an unusual poppy in a corner of his garden ('abutting on the fields'). This was a minor variant of the wild poppy, Papaver rhoeas, in which the petals were bordered by a strip of white. From this slight variation, by patient crossing and selection, he bred the varied and ornamental 'Shirley Poppies'.
The Shirley poppy with its white base, yellow or white stamens, anthers and pollen and no trace of black is now known worldwide and is carved on the mace of Croydon's mayor.
Wilks' garden at the vicarage became a showpiece with plants from all over the world. Just prior to his retirement in 1912 he built 'The Wilderness' on seven acres of ground adjoining the vicarage. When William Wilks died on 2nd March 1923, the Wilderness was bought by the Methodist Society for use as an Old People's Home. The house was extended and renamed Hall Grange. The vicarage itself became a listed building of historical importance in 1983.
The significance of The Wilderness to the RHS, and the burgeoning discipline of ecological gardening, was fleetingly recognised in the mid 1980s when the National Trust and Department of the Environment considered its merits in the face of a development threat. The 'locally important bog garden and heathland planting' was considered particularly noteworthy, leading to the garden's designation as a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature in 1988.
The garden is being restored after MHA applied for Lottery funding from the Heritage Lottery Funding. Restoration will reveal its structure, plant collections and aesthetic beauty again to the wider horticultural community, as well as opening it up for the benefit of care home residents and their families, plus the wider community.
If you would like to volunteer at The Wilderness please email email@example.com or call 07966232359
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.
- Awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit
- Additional Information
Packet Size 100mg Average Seed Count 1,000 Seeds Family Plantaginaceae Genus Digitalis Species purpurea var gloxinioides Common Name Aka 'The Shirley' Other Common Names Campbell's Hybrid Foxglove Hardiness Hardy Biennial Hardy Hardy to minus 15°C (5°F) Flowers Tubular, open flowers each with frilled edges. Natural Flower Time Late spring to mid summer Foliage Green rosettes Height 150cm (5ft) 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).