Saturday, June 2, 2012


Digitalis purpurea. My new love. Finger flower, Fairy bell, Fox glove. The fanciful labels given to this stately beauty evoke whimsical images, but she is rather too dignified for silly nicknames. My garden is rich with white and purple spires. A bumblebee vanishes into one spotted hood-shaped bloom and wiggles out, butt first, only to make its joyous way into another.

Foxglove performs brilliantly for those who are sensitive to the cycles of the natural world, and also for those who are oblivious to nature’s ways. The clearing outside my mother’s home in the Adirondacks was lush with hay-scented fern and foxglove every July. Scoffing at the herds of deer that lounged on the thin grasses, the acid soils that limited gardening possibilities, and the 280 inches of annual snowfall, the steadfast pair created a spontaneous scene that any gardener would be proud to replicate. The chemicals in foxglove’s leaves can kill, as deer evidently know. Deadman’s bells, some call the charming hoods. My mother sensibly chose to grow a mini crop of kohlrabi in a planter high upon her deck railing rather than fight the wild world for the sake of a tomato or rose. Meanwhile in her clearing, foxglove faithfully returned year after year in the brief moment that is summer in the north country, unbidden and underappreciated. 

Seldom seen in manicured yards of turf and mulch, foxglove does not take kindly to landscape crews that descend en masse to perform “spring cleanup” in late winter. She also does not tolerate Mr. Neat (who lives in every neighborhood). Clipping the stalks of finished flowers before they have the opportunity to fulfill their function is a sure way to banish the beautiful foxglove. But the gardener—or slacker—who allows the tiny seeds to scatter themselves at will on bare ground, and then waits for the seedlings to show themselves before putting down a reasonable layer of mulch (or not) will be rewarded handsomely the following year as rhythmic spires elevate the merely pleasant to the dazzling. A small indulgence for such a big return.

She is so easy to love.

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