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Digitalis purpurea – Foxglove ‘Emerson’

I waited an entire year to photograph foxglove Emerson (Digitalis purpurea ‘Emerson’). I’ve grown foxglove Emerson for some time but never photographed it well.

Foxglove Emerson is arguably the finest of the biennial foxgloves.

Introduced by the peerless garden nursery Goodness Grows, Emerson foxglove has elegant blooms held on stately, strong stems that can get upwards of four feet tall by the time all is said and done. The flowers open creamy yellow, but mature to white. It is one of the all-time greats.

Foxglove Emerson
Foxglove ‘Emerson’ is stately, tall, and wonderful in the evening shade garden. American columbine is in the background.

Foxglove Emerson e is a cultivar of Digitalis purpurea, common foxglove. Comments below regarding the growth and culture of Emerson generally apply to all Digitalis purpurea varieties.

Foxglove Emerson is a biennial that blooms for 4-6 weeks from mid-spring to very early summer. It is the one plant in the garden I replant every year. Buy and plant young foxglove in fall if you can. It will flower the next spring as a two-year-old plant. If you choose to plant from seed, a basal clump will form the first year and the foxglove will flower the second year. Do not worry about winter.

Digitalis purpurea is reliably hardy zones 4-8. I will share what an old gardener told me back when I was a young gardener: Do not worry if foxglove’s leaves get bitten back during winter and those late frosts. As soon as the weather warms, the foxglove will get back to business. I have never worried about foxglove since that wisdom was passed down, and it has never let me down.

The secret to growing beautiful foxglove in your garden: Digitalis purpurea prefers rich soil, afternoon shade, and moisture. Avoid afternoon sun…the foxglove won’t like it.

In southern states, if you grow Digitalis purpurea in full sun there better be ample moisture. I have seen many a foxglove baked to a crisp because gardeners followed the advice of plant labels and garden guides indicating full sun. If you want beautiful foxgloves: good compost, good moisture, afternoon shade.

Foxglove, like columbine, is most beautiful when viewed in shady parts of the day.

I was looking at a photograph of the Decatur garden of Atlanta garden designer Ryan Gainey and there were these beautiful tall seed pods on a plant gone to seed. It took a minute, but I realized I was looking at foxglove photographed in late summer. Emerson blooms for a good six weeks or so, but try allowing the stems to slowly wither and dry over summer Ryan Gainey-style and you might love it.

On staking: We had a storm last night. The foxglove ‘Emerson’ was fine.

We had branches snapped, big potted hostas blown off tables, and a wisteria vine was toppled. This morning trees are down, power is out, and we can hear the fire engines in the distance. The streets outside are green with thousands of fallen young oak leaves. The foxglove, unstaked, prevailed. I rarely stake foxglove.

Foxglove is generally safe from deer. Digitalis purpurea is poisonous. If you have dogs or young children prone to sampling the local vegetation, plant foxglove out of their reach. Cats seem bright enough to leave foxglove alone.

Some of the charming names foxglove has been called throughout the last five centuries include dead man’s bells, witches gloves, bloody fingers, and folks glove (from which the common name ‘foxglove’ we use now is derived).

Emerson foxglove

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