Hartley Magazine

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Foxgloves and Biennials

While this is not exactly a quiet time in the garden, it most certainly is in the greenhouse. My own greenhouse is now standing almost empty: there are just a few lilies that I am hiding in there trying to keep them away from the lily beetles – pretty successfully so far, by the way. All of the crops that can be planted out at the plot have gone out in the last few weeks, and most have instantly grown away beautifully in the warm weather of late May and early June. There have been few more straightforward starts to the growing season in recent years than this particular late spring, and so there is nothing at all left lingering indoors for the residual heat. Some spilled compost and a few labels are all the evidence that is left of a busy sowing time.

Image 1 - Jun 2016

So with a little bit of a clear up there is suddenly plenty of space for some new sowings, and I have been considering my options. I have been in Cornwall for the week and marvelling at the hedgerows, and in particular at the glorious foxgloves that cling to the sides and pop out from the tops of the luxuriant Cornish hedges. And I realised, once again, that I have none at all in my garden, despite them being real favourites of mine, and despite numerous efforts to introduce them. I plant them and they grow and flower, but they never quite seem to self seed in the way they are supposed to, and so I never have a self-managing population.  I’m not quite ready to admit defeat yet though (after seven years of trying I seem to have finally had success with clematis, so never say die). This is the time to sow foxgloves, as well as other biennials, and by sowing seed rather than buying plants, I will end up with so many that I can fill the garden with them, and give them the best possible chance of settling in for good.

Biennials are plants that grow one year and flower the next, completing their life cycle over two years, hence the name. And they tend to get missed out of our sowing schedules, because they are not sown when we are in the midst of our spring sowing frenzy and so we forget about them, heaving a sigh of relief as we plant everything out and pack away our sowing equipment. But no, this is the time. I decided to go for all-white foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora (from www.crocus.co.uk), rather than the purple of the hedgerows, and at the same time to sow Hesperis matronalis var. albiflora. This is sweet rocket, another biennial, and one of the loveliest scented of all of the plants that you can grow in the garden. It is particularly delicious in the evenings, when I am hoping that it will complement the jasmine that I planted last year, and that is slowly winding its way up my veranda.

Foxglove seeds are miniscule. Sow them as evenly as you can over a tray of seed compost. The seedlings will also be tiny, so prick them out in small clumps first, into pots. Only when they have grown on again should you prick them out into their individual pots and then grow them on for the rest of the summer, or just plant them out where they are to flower this time next year. Scented summer evenings on my veranda, with spires of white foxgloves off in the twilight beyond, that sounds like my sort of garden, and all down to biennials.