January 18, 2011

Large Flowered But Doubtful

Do you see the pale yellow spires of my perennial foxglove in this photo from last spring?  The yellow one, Digitalis grandiflora ambigua?  It's at the back of this garden --- in fact there is a stand of six of these beauties massed together.

See them?  Me neither.

They're at the back, behind the deep purple Salvia 'May Night'.  Their assigned role in this garden was to stand tall and provide the beautiful vertical structure this garden of clumps needs in May and June.  The pretty bells of foxgloves are just the thing to discipline a cottage garden, and Digitalis ambigua is a perennial one that comes back each year, not the bienniel that only lasts two years and stays in your garden only by self seeding.

Permanent. Tall.  Soft yellow to tame the purples and pinks of spring.  A classic.  But nowhere to be seen.

This is not one of my horticultural failures, or a plant I killed. This is a blooming, thriving success; I just can't see it.

Here's a view a little later in the season from the backside of the garden and you can see the pale downward facing foxglove bells just peeking out to the left of the bright pink 'Elfin Pink' and the white 'Husker's Red' penstemons.

They're there.

But it turns out they are not tall enough for the back of the garden, and too pale to shine through other plants and get noticed.  A really doubtful note in the garden, very middle sized and middle colored.  Ambiguous.

What did the plant breeders mean when they dubbed this foxglove Digitalis grandiflora ambigua?  "Grandiflora" I get: large flowers.  But "ambigua"?  In Latin it means "doubtful".  Were they underwhelmed by this plant, or just confused about its middling look?  Did they doubt it would do anything interesting in the garden?

It's awfully helpful to know Latin when you shop for plants for your garden.  I didn't know, and I bought a plant essentially named "foxglove, large flowered but doubtful".

from MoBot's files
This spring I am going to dig up all six and put them somewhere else, nearer the house and closer to the front of one of my borders.  Maybe next to something dark, a conifer perhaps, that will give the pale buttery shade of the bells some contrast.

They do have attractive interesting blooms as the close up photo from MoBot shows, and looking inside the carillon tubes reveals the speckled brown mottles that are a classic foxglove detail.

They really are pretty after all.

No doubt about that.


  1. I once saw a photo of a woodland garden with hundreds of these creamy pale foxgloves lining the path. Rays of sunlight were streaming through the tall trees. It was magical, and ever since I have loved this kind of foxglove. I tried to create a similar effect in my own woodland, but unfortunately the soil is too dry and hard beside my paths. I still am looking for the right place for them. Yours really are beautiful - I hope they find a perfect place where they can be appreciated!

  2. Laurrie, Don't you hate when plants don't do what they're supposed to do? I agree, the flowers are subtle, but pretty. I'm sure you'll find the right location for them even though they'll never scream 'Look at me, look at me!".

  3. Deborah, How I wish I could have seen that magical sweep of foxgloves in the woodland path! And how hard it is to recreate anything like that....

    Debbie, Yes, plants doing what they want instead of what I want -- drives me crazy. Who's in charge, anyway?

  4. The wonderful thing I've found about perennials is they're easy to move! I worry about making such a mistake with a large tree :) These plants really are beautiful, I'm sure you'll find a spot that suits them perfectly. I'm drooling over your Husker's Red Penstemon - that's hardy in zone 5? YAH!!!!! One more plant I simply must have.

  5. They are pretty but rather ambiguous. I think it a good idea to put something blue behind it. I know you will fix er up nice.

  6. Marguerite, The Husker's Red penstemon was a surprise to me... it has really striking red maroon foliage and the prettiest white and pink flowers. A much more striking plant for the spot where the foxgloves are now. Gets big. I hope you plant some!

    Lisa, I do plan to fix er up nice! These foxgloves are too pretty to languish unseen behind other plants.

  7. In the south they need part shade, and there or next to something dark would bring out their beauty more. They don't shout "Look at me!" the way the biennials do.

  8. Hi Laurie,
    I did not know that there was a perennial foxglove! I think you are on the right track with your plans to move them and I am sure that the right setting will make them seem even more lovely.
    I read through your older post. I am a reformed gatherer, who has in the past, brought impulse purchases home. These days money is tight and I am far more restrained.
    I am glad that you enjoyed my post on Maud & Evertt. I guess I can understand family and friends luke warm reaction to your prints. Maud's paintings may not be for everyone. A sense of humor is required to like her quirky view of the world. The cat paintings are amongst my favorites.

  9. Sweetbay, up here they do well in full sun, but the new site I'm thinking of putting them in will be partly shady. So I'll be able to test different growing conditions for these foxgloves.

    Jennifer, I'm glad you were able to reform your gathering ways! I did really enjoy your post on Maud and Evertt -- thanks (guess I have been misspelling Evertt, oops).

  10. Laurrie, the foxgloves are gorgeous, I think that you need to treble your number, then perhaps there is more of a chane they will stand out.
    Sorry it has been so long, between all the paperwork/appointments in moving to a new country, visitos (who want constant entertaining) and very slow internet (took me 4 hours to load all the pictures from my latest post), I haven't been around as much as I would like to, but I am thinking of you and will catch up soon.

  11. Deborah, So good to hear from you! I am enjoying all the news from Barbados and the pictures and places you're seeing. What an adventure.


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