King of the foxgloves

March 16th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Digitalis 'Summer King'
Back in 1924, D. H. Buxton of the John Innes Horticultural Institution, then in Merton in south west London, created a hybrid between our native foxglove and Digitalis grandiflora, a yellow flowered species from Eastern Europe. This was news because the two species had always been thought to be incompatible.

In fact he raised fifty seedlings, all from seed set on our native plant with pollen from the yellow-flowered one. He then pollinated one of the seedlings with its own pollen and raised ninety six plants which were identical to the parent and which themselves produced lots of seed.

So out of two plants thought never to produce seed when crossed together he’d produced a new fertile form that could easily be raised from seed. This plant was called Digitalis x mertonensis.

A number of varieties have been developed over the years and ‘Summer King’ is one of the best. In a trial run by the RHS at its garden at Wisley a few years ago ‘Summer King’ was described as “Multi-stemmed and very good flowering. Flowers held well on spike. Self-cleans beautifully.”

It’s a little like a more compact, more showy form of our native foxglove with spikes crowded with flowers the colour of strawberry ice cream on the outside and raspberries on the inside.

If you like foxgloves, give ‘Summer King’ a try. If you don’t, this one will probably convert you.

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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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