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Saving foxglove seeds
Last spring I found a foxglove seedling in a pot, which had presumably self-seeded from a neighbour’s garden. Excited, I potted it on and nurtured it in anticipation of seeing it flower this year. (Foxgloves are biennial, so flower in their second year before setting seed and dying.)
This was no mean feat: I moved house twice, then turned its final resting place – my new little courtyard – into a building site for six months while transforming it into a garden.
With each flagstone and bag of sand I lifted, sorted and freecycled, I reminded myself of the end goal: a beautiful garden where my foxglove could flower, set seed and make baby foxgloves. I imagined a sea of digitalis in years to come, alive with the sound of unseen bumblebees delving deep into their many nectaries. I wondered what colour this parent plant would be, praying it would be white, or at least purple, but definitely not ‘apricot’.
I finally planted it out in January when the topsoil arrived. Normally I wouldn’t recommend jolting a plant out of its comfortable pot into some frozen snow-covered ground, but this was a ceremonial planting, which (I hoped) would symbolise the success and glory of my new garden.
In March it started to produce lots of healthy foliage and a flower spike. Although the immature flowers had a disturbing apricot hue, I was ecstatic when they eventually turned out to be bog-standard purple. Beautiful.
Foxglove seeds are best sown fresh. They’re too tiny to handle comfortably, so it’s a good idea to just place a pot of moist compost beneath the flowers to catch the seeds when they fall. You can transplant them when they’re bigger.
I dutifully placed a pot of compost beneath the plant. But then disaster struck. Munching away at the flowers and unripe seeds, was a fat, green caterpillar. I’ve no idea what the caterpillar was; there are so many green caterpillars, and not all of them are the small cabbage white. I grudgingly decided that butterflies and moths are far fewer in number than foxgloves, and a new foxglove might just as easily self-seed in my garden as this one did last year.
The caterpillar certainly had a good feast – my partner and I made regular checks on it and found that it was getting through a flower an hour. But there are some seedheads remaining. My sea of digitalis might be more of a puddle, but that little foxglove did not self-seed in vain.
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