Foxgloves and Irises

In this worst of all possible gardening years some plants appear to have taken advantage. Foxgloves have seeded themselves everywhere, and are now in flower. I’ve never seen so many. If they weren’t such a common wild flower, I would be nurturing them carefully because they make for wonderful patches of colour just when the June flowers are going past their best. As it is, I ruthlessly pull the seedlings out of the borders without a second thought and throw them on the compost heap.

The guide marks for the bumble bees give the flower its interest. In a bee’s vision the blotches may line up perfectly, but even with human eyes you can see the landing pad and the surrounding dots which help the bee focus on the right spot. Each flower has a slightly different pattern – is this random, or is it a sophisticated way to attract short-sighted bees as well as the normal ones?

The water irises are coming into flower now too. This is iris pseudacorus ‘alba’, a rather

sophisticated version of the common yellow flag iris, iris pseudacorus. It’s marginally less robust as well, which is fine by me, as the wild yellow version forms large clumps very rapidly – whereas this is more discreet.
My favourite is iris laevigata, especially at this tightly-furled stage. It’s a Japanese iris, and is happiest growing with its roots in water. It has the best blue of all the big bog irises, but I find the full flower fractionally out of proportion to the rest of the plant. A mere quibble I know.

And finally, iris chrysographes, the one iris no one should be without, because the deep velvety purple-black is not only striking in its own right, but usefully sets off almost every other colour you can grow it against. The RHS says it needs well-drained soil, but if my experience is anything to go by, this is nonsense. I grow it in everything from fertile loam to sodden yellow clay. Providing you have a tinge of acid in the soil, it will do just fine.

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28 thoughts on “Foxgloves and Irises

  1. My stage of foxglove colonisation is a little behind yours, Mr K. Just a little. I’ll let them spread about a bit more before I start consigning to the compost bins – though I already have to thin the seedlings quite ruthlessly. Your irises are beautiful. But then you knew that – despite your mere quibble. Dave

    • The trouble with the bog irises is that their flowers are very short lived compared to the bearded types. But never mind – fleeting beauty is better than none! Maybe some laevigata would look good on your island? They can survive the odd dry spell…

  2. Really love your black iris, I might try those now and ignore the RHS. I have a million foxgloves too this year, almost over now, but I love drifts of them amongst white daisies. I’d rather have more of the paler ones of course (never satisfied). Somewhere along the line a white one grew in the greenhouse so I try to collect the seed from that and scatter it profligately, while pulling the normal ones before they seed all over. It doesn’t work of course, but I perhaps have a few more white ones among the purple than I would otherwise. Thank you so much for all the great advice and photographs.

      • Bother, mine is alkaline and nasty grey clay, right on the Wiltshire / Gloucestershire border, on the Thames valley flood plain – a bit further south than you. Close to gravel, but it gets very wet…..

  3. I believe your bumble bee vision theories want proving Kininvie, or anyway the bees in my garden seem able to access most dot-less flowers and don’t wear spectacles.

    I’m glad your yellow irises are discreet– heaven knows there is enough indiscretion in the world. I like the purple-black ones better though.

  4. I agree, foxgloves are enjoying all the rain that we are having, they are just growing and growing, some must be well over 8ft now! Love Your Iris chrysographes, must try it again now that the bog garden is more organised.

  5. I agree with David on the foxgloves…… I am just letting them get on with it. I have one bunch that are a very pale cream colour. With all the weeds that are thriving in our garden composting the only splash of colour in a sea of green is the farthest thought from my mind. I am supposed to be resurrecting a physic garden after all so foxgloves are in.

      • I checked in the book early Scottish Gardeners and their plants 1650 -1750. i stand corrected as there is no mention of Foxgloves (Digitalis) on the list in the physic garden at that time. But in my defense it is included in modern physic gardens as you will see if you google it. So now my dilemma is which era of physic garden to aim for or do I just have a series of physic gardens through the ages.

        • Wiki tells me that William Withering, who discovered the use of digitalis as a cure for dropsy, did so in 1785. I imagine it took a bit of time for physicians to catch up and start planting foxgloves in physic gardens (not that I know anything about them).

  6. Wow! That foxgloves (d. Purpurea, right?) is yet another thing I’m not growing in my garden, because it wouldn’t grow at all! Too water demanding for me. Anyway I found digitalis lanata is very drought tolerant and far less romantic than purpurea, which kind of matches my garden but I still ‘miss’ some purpurea. Reading that you pull the seedlings out and throw them away almost sound like a blasphemy, I wonder what b-a-g would think of you when he/she (it?!) will read this post of yours.
    (you should have genders in your language you know? Every other developped European language has genders, that would be helpful to understand who you are talking about. Please do something.)

    • Alberto, we got rid of genders somewhere around 600 AD as being totally unnecessary and confusing (I mean why is a young girl considered to be neuter in German?). The fact that other European languages still have to catch up is hardly the fault of English….
      Anyway, my 3 r.spinosissima are flowering, so when (if) there is any sun, I shall take some photographs and hope you will be able to identify them!

  7. Stunning irises. I only have a few in my garden planted last autumn and they’ve all gone over now. Would love some more and particularly one like your sumptuous dark purple iris.

  8. Hi Kininvie, the Foxgloves have also been running riot on the east coast, must be this constant rain. More than usual many of them seem to be sending up side shoots and after cutting back the spent main stem we have multi-stemmed ones for later in the season. I don’t have many Iris in the garden, I will look out for chrysographes though.

    • Hello Alistair, I never knew foxgloves liked rain so much. It was wet last year too, when they set seed, so that may also explain the proliferation. I’ll add you to the list of chrysographes wannabees.

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