Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Foxgloves are great for pollinators

Greenhouses have a great deal to offer gardeners. Because they are a controlled environment, they make it possible to grow a much wider range plants than would necessarily be supported by the immediate climate. 

As such, it is important to ensure you know exactly what you want to use the space for and maintain a good spread of plants. 

For instance, even if you have decided that you mainly want to use the greenhouse to grow fruit and vegetables, it is important to make sure that you still have something in there that will do a great job of attracting pollinators such as bees. 

The foxglove is a great example of such a plant – although it is actually a genus of around 20 different species, which have a Latin binomial name of Digitalis. This translates as 'finger-like' – and this is a reference to the ease with which the flowers can be fitted over a human fingertip. 

It is native to west and south-west Europe, as well as west and central Asia, Australasia and the north-west of Africa. It is characterised by famously tube-like flowers that are produced on the end of a tall spike and can be anything from purple to pink, white and yellow in color. 

The common foxglove – Digitalis purpurea – is the best-known species and is a biennial plant that is often kept as an ornamental. This is because of the aesthetic appeal offered by its vivid flowers. 

Celebrity gardener and former presenter of the Gardener's World television show Sarah Raven underlined the fact that the plant is very attractive to pollinators – and this can make it ideally suited to growing on a border, for those who would prefer to keep such a beautiful flower out of the greenhouse and on show. 

In an article for the UK's Daily Telegraph, Ms Raven advised sowing foxglove seeds around late spring or early summer. She claimed they are easiest to scatter in trays, as they have a relatively small seed. 

They can also be planted into their final position at the end of summer, or in early autumn – although Ms Raven advised against overcrowding them with other plants or even their siblings. 

This is because if they are more widely spread out, they can produce significantly larger clumps than they would be able to if they were in a more confined space. 

"In September, plant the seedlings out in a seedbed where they can stay until early next spring, when they can be moved into their final flowering position, each plant with a good spadeful of root ball and soil to go with it," Ms Raven advised. 

"I've just created an area of open ground for exactly this reason, with enough room to space them out 18 inches apart," the expert continued. 

"This enables them to put on huge growth in the autumn when the soil is still warm and moist, so they're in a good strong state when we hit the winter and hence grow off again well next spring."