Purples/Pink Bells of High Summer
The Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) or Lus mór or Méirín púca in Irish displays its spikes of purple-pink bells from June to August. (1) The genus “Digitalis” derived from the Latin word “digitus” which means finger. A finger can easily be inserted into any of the tubular bells. The “fox” in foxglove may be derived from “folks’ glove” or “fairies’ glove”. One of its Irish names, “méirín púca” also alludes to this derivation. “Lus mór” means the great herb and indeed it was used to treat heart conditions when the drug digitalin was extracted from its seeds and leaves. All parts of the plant are poisonous, so it is safe practice to wear gloves when handling any part of it.
It likes shady or semi-shaded areas; one flower can produce thousands of seeds. It is pollinated mainly by bumble bees. (2) The seeds can be harvested by tying a bag around the stem when the seed capsules begin to turn brown or by just by gathering them by hand and placing them in a paper bag. Scatter the seeds thinly on a tray of well-watered seed compost (50% peat-free compost: 50% horticultural sand) in August or save the seeds in an envelope and sow them in March. Do not cover them with the compost. Place a piece of Perspex, glass or recycled clear plastic over the tray and leave in a shady place. (3) When seedlings acquire a pair of true leaves transplant them into small pots or modular trays of compost. If grown in March plant these in the garden in autumn. If grown in August plant outside in the spring.