Spectacular bee friendly foxgloves

May 5th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Digitalis Illumination Raspberry (left), Illumination Flame and Illumination ApricotFoxgloves are undergoing a revolution.

Gardeners and nurserypeople and plant breeders have been crossing one foxglove species with another going back many many decades. But although some lovely plants were created, propagation was always a problem. They were often produced no seed, no cuttings and were difficult, if not impossible, to divide.

Propagation by tissue culture, in the laboratory, solved that problem making it relatively straightforward to propagate plants reliably in good quantities. And one of the most striking new foxglove hybrids to benefit from this propagation technique has been the Illumination foxgloves. Without tissue culture we wouldn’t be able to buy them.

The Illumination foxgloves are the result of crossing the golden flowered, slightly woody foxglove that grows in the Canary Islands, Digitalis canariensis, with various forms of our native foxglove, D. purpurea. The result is a series of rather exotic looking perennial foxgloves which, I’ve noticed, attract more bees than just about any other plants in the garden. And reaching 90cm in height, the effect can be very impressive.

They are not, however, completely hardy. Ideal in large well-drained containers, in borders they appreciate full sun, fertile soil – and drainage is crucial, especially during the winter months.

‘Illumination Flame’ (above, centre), winner of the Chelsea Plant of The Year award in 2012, was the first to appear, a lovely variety whose flowers are vivid pink on the outside and apricot within. ‘Illumination Raspberry’ is richer and darker, raspberry pink on the outside and peachy within. The latest is ‘Illumination Apricot’ in shining apricot inside and out with golden overtones. All are prettily speckled. All you can order a collection of all three.

These are some of the loveliest recently introduced perennials – but be sure to give them the conditions they need. They’re worth it. Order soon, before they sell out.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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