Gardens

Monty Don's foxglove growing tips, his favorite bloom – and what not to do

Find out how to grow foxgloves – Monty's favourite biennial

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Foxgloves are a staple of the cottage garden, great for adding height and interest as well as being a beloved food source for pollinators, especially bees. Thankfully, this garden favorite is fool-proof and a great choice for beginners, too. 

'Foxgloves are really easy to grow from seed' encourages Monty Don in a recent Gardener's World video, but don't expect flowers in the first year. 

Since foxgloves are biennial, the plants will root and produce foliage in their first year, then remaining dormant throughout winter before erupting into beautiful blooms the following year. 

If you want instant impact you can buy established plants or specific hybrid plants which will flower this year. These plants can be treated as annuals but will obviously be more expensive than buying seeds and growing them yourself. 

A word of warning though, foxgloves are poisonous, so are not good if you have pets that are likely to eat plants.

Monty Don's favorite foxglove

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In his new book, The Complete Gardener, Monty Don reveals that his own favourite foxglove is the white foxglove (Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora), because it will 'gracefully grow in almost complete shade, and dry shade, which is rare.'

Growing foxgloves – with Monty Don's top tips

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'The great advantage of biennials in our borders over annuals is that they are hardy enough to withstand a cold winter and quickly produce flowers in spring without having to wait for the plant to grow first,' says Monty Don in his blog.

'Sow the seeds thinly in a seed tray, cover them with vermiculite and put to one side to germinate. They do not need heat but a sheltered spot or porch will help. 

'When the seedlings are large enough to handle prick them out into pots or plugs and grow them on so the young plants are ready to plant out in early autumn where you want them to flower in the spring.'

Beyond that they require very little care, and will flower and then seed independently making them a very low-maintenance option that still packs a punch in the border.

Due to their height, foxgloves work really well at the back of borders. 'We use them in the Shrub Rose Garden where they come into flower before the main flush of rose blooms, filling that gap between spring and midsummer' says Helen Round, the garden manager at RHS Rosemoor. In the Cottage Garden, we combine them with sweet rocket and sweet Williams.'

Do foxgloves come back every year?

Growing foxgloves

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Foxgloves can come back every year if you pick a perennial variety. Perennial foxgloves flower every year for the next three to five years. Species like Apricot Beauty, Regal Red and Snow Thimble are good choices.

However, the majority of foxgloves are biennial, especially if grown from seed. This means they flower on the second year after being planted, then die back.

Foxgloves are self-seeding, meaning that with time you can have a continuous border of flowers every year for minimal effort. To achieve this, sow seeds in two consecutive years, so that you never have a gap in blooms.

Where is the best place to plant foxgloves?

The best place to plant your foxgloves is in full sun or part shade and free-draining soil. 'Foxgloves are really good at growing in lots of odd little corners and spaces in the garden,' says Monty Don in a Gardener's World video.

With flower spikes growing up to 30cm in length and plants growing more than 1m tall, it's also important to consider the vertical height available for the plant so avoid using it to underplant shrubs or smaller trees. 

Do foxgloves like sun or shade?

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Foxgloves prefer partial shade, but will also thrive in full sun. They are a woodland plant and so like woodland conditions.

Do foxgloves spread?

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Foxgloves do spread as they are self-seeding which means you are likely to have foxgloves popping up in various other borders too. In The Complete Gardener Monty Don affectionally refers to them as 'welcome weeds'. 

So how does Monty deal with rogue foxgloves? 'We collect the seedlings and move them to select spots around the garden. This must be done in autumn or late winter at the latest,' he continues. 

Can you use foxgloves as a cut flower?

'Foxgloves look stunning in a vase but remember that each plant produces just one flower spike,' says Helen Round, the garden manager at RHS Rosemoor. 'So once it's cut, the plant will not produce any more, or if it does, they will be much smaller.'