Digitalis: Stately Flowers All Summer Long
The genus Digitalis is an Old World group of perennial and biennial plants found across much of Europe, west and central Asia and northwestern Africa. The Latin name Digitalis means "finger-like," perhaps referring to the fact that the flowers fit easily, like a thimble, over the tip of the human finger.
In the Garden
Unlike the most the popular and well known of the foxgloves, the biennial Digitalis purpurea*, Digitalis 'Honey Trumpet' is a true perennial. The result of a bee pollinated cross between two dryland species in the Oregon garden of Xera Plants nursery, this spectacular hybrid is destined for greatness. Flowering begins in late spring and continues all summer, with a mature plant boasting six or more tall spikes of plump, speckled flowers the color of amber and honey. Clip off the faded flower spikes where they poke out of the foliage to encourage more spikes to appear. The evergreen foliage is also attractive and resembles that of a lily. The plant is propagated from softwood cuttings, although this is a challenge because the plant is rarely out-of-bloom. Being a hybrid, it won't come true from seed.
In the garden these flowers are a favorite nectar source for bumblebees, who also fit nicely into the large thimble-shaped flowers. I've seen foxglove listed as a hummingbird attracting plant, but have not witnessed this myself here in western gardens, where there are so many hummingbird pollinated plants. Perhaps in other parts of the country, in the absence of better choices, hummingbirds will sip the flowers for their nectar.
Growing the Plant
'Honey Trumpet' grows easily in a wide range of soils, including clay-loam, as long as it is well drained and not too rich. It needs a half to full day of sunshine. Leave the stems standing over the winter and clip off any damaged or dead foliage in mid-spring. Water moderately once established and fertilize the plant in fall by top dressing the soil with a mixture of high quality compost and Yum Yum Mix. Scratch it in and mulch with composted bark, pine needles, crushed nut shells or other coarse textured mulch materials to tuck the plant in for winter.
The stately architecture of the flower spikes makes this an exciting perennial to mix into your flower beds. In partial shade, I like to use Golden Columbine(Aquilegia chrysantha), Blue Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), pink Kashmir Sage (Phlomis cashmeriana), and coral-pink Westin Pink Coral Bells (Heuchera). In sunny beds, 'Honey Trumpet' is right at home with Purple Coneflower(Echinacea), Sharon Roberts Twice blooming English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia 'Sharon Roberts'), and May Night European Sage (Salvia sylvestris 'May Night').
⃰ Digitalis purpurea is a biennial (grows vegetatively the first growing season then flowers and dies the second growing season).
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