Gardening: A perfect fit for summer

Bees love the foxglove's pollen.
Bees love the foxglove's pollen.
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How did the foxglove get its name? David Overend reports.

Opportunist is a word applied to quite a few plants – particularly invasive weeds. Occasionally, however, it fits 
the bill with a handsome flower.

So it is that just when it seemed that it couldn’t get any better for the not-so-humble foxglove, summer 2015 comes along and gives the flower the chance to show its ability to be an opportunist.

For a plant which prefers a bit of shade, it has taken to the sun and the heat and every spare bit of soil seems to have been colonised, most often by the common purple form, although a few white and cream versions can be seen among the crowds.

Digitalis purpurea is having a field day, particularly where areas of land have been disturbed and then left fallow.

This is a plant with presence, a wild and wonderful bloomer with an ability to find a home in the smallest space, and then to shoot upwards several feet to display its magnificent flower spike.

It loves semi-shady spots, deciduous woodland areas and clearings in conifer forests, but it will happily find a home on sunny roadside verges where many local authorities have dispensed with spraying herbicides, and even in a crack in a wall.

Bees love the foxglove’s pollen; in fact, bees are far and away the major pollinators of the plant whose shape provides the ideal landing-platform for the insect.

And it has been calculated that just a single foxglove can produce more than one million seeds – which is another reason why the plant is so successful.

Look upon them as a free gift, and if they’re in the wrong place, move them; they don’t mind being transferred to a more suitable site, just as long as they get the right growing conditions and are watered well to held them re-establish.

Just about everyone likes (or at least recognises) a foxglove; it’s an image of what we’d like to think of as the perfect British summer – warm days filled the sound of birds and bees.

As for its common name – the shape of its flowers reminded people of the fingers of a glove and it was christened “folksglove” because of its liking for woodland clearings where “the good folk”, or fairies, were believed to live. This evolved to the foxglove we have today.