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Apricot Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea ‘Sutton’s Apricot’)


One year, I had a grow-the-most-varieties of digitalis contest with myself.

Actually, it was two years, since most of the varieties I tried from seed were cultivars and variants of Digitalis purpurea, a biennial. This year, I’m doing another round of digitalis varieties, and many of them are, once again, cultivars or subspecies of Digitalis purpurea, the common foxglove.

Of the purpureas I actually brought to flower, ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ is probably my favorite. I say “probably” because it’s hard for me to choose among several favorites, and in fact the plain old red-purple wild variety is pretty fetching itself, especially found in the wild – though they like cooler and moister places than my area.

Apparently, flower color is an indicator of medical constituents in this plant, because Maude Grieve, who grew herbs professionally for the medical market, cautions that only flowers of “pure, dull pink or magenta” are the true medicinal plants. So medicinal growers selected for the wild-foxglove color.

Meanwhile, other growers were selecting from the variety of colorings that Digitalis purpurea tends to sport into. ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ is one of them. There’s another apricot Digitalis purpurea (if you think of the meaning of these names, that sentence looks really stupid) called ‘Apricot Beauty’, and there may be more, for all I know. I don’t know if there’s any significant difference among them or not.


Once a sporter, always a sporter. When I saved seeds from my ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ (bought as a plant), I got a lot of dull purple and whitish-purple flowers in the next generation. True, my sampling was pretty small – well, my garden is small, so it had to be. But I’ve concluded that ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ may need several generations of selection before it comes anything like true to seed. Or maybe there are varieties and cultivars which have more stable seed.

While I’m generally in favor of saving my own seed and eschewing most seed-grown hybrids, I’ll let the seed companies do my work for me on ‘Sutton’s Apricot’. I want to be sure that I’ll have many of these strong plants glowing in the shadow of the trees (and in my vase) in two years.


{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Sylvia (England) January 6, 2009, 5:31 am

    A lovely colour, Pomona. I do like foxgloves and last year I grew a white one and Pam’s Choice (white with purple spots in side the flower) from seed, I am looking forward to seeing them flower this year. I get lots of seedlings as well which I usually need to pull up or transplant.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  • Daffodil Planter January 6, 2009, 11:39 am

    Although, to my mind, there’s no such thing as an unlovely foxglove, this apricot color really draws me in, as it does in Tulipa ‘Apricot Beauty’, Narcissus ‘Salome’ and Narcissus ‘Passionale’.

    Very interesting about the diminished medicinal strength too.

  • Frances January 6, 2009, 1:46 pm

    Hi Pomona, like daffodil planter above, if it has apricot in the name, I’m there. But do feel the apricot is a bit of a stretch in the case of both foxgloves you named. Truly they are beauties, but more pink to these eyes.

  • Pomona Belvedere January 6, 2009, 2:53 pm

    I too am a sucker for everything apricot (and most things foxglove; ensuing posts will talk about a couple of foxgloves that less than thrill me, as well as more that I love). I grow all of the bulbs mentioned by Daffodil Planter except ‘Passionale’, I guess that has to go on my list. (Have you tried ‘Bellsong’ narcissus?) Frances, your observation about the pinkness of apricot foxgloves is interesting. I’d say that in the bud stage I could call these pink with yellow bits, but in the fully open stage they look apricot to me. I guess that’s why the RHS does those color codes! I can’t help thinking that soil probably makes a difference in color as well, so they may actually be more pinkish depending on where they grow. It’d be interesting to know how many people come down on the pink side and how many on the apricot on these.

  • Frances January 6, 2009, 3:21 pm

    Hi Pomona, it may indeed be the soil. I meant to include that I have started seeds for Digitalis parviflora ‘Milk Chocolate’, wondering if you have grown this one before?

  • Daffodil Planter January 6, 2009, 8:14 pm

    Pomona, No I haven’t tried ‘Bellsong’ and have always wanted to. What’s your experience with it? I found ‘Passionale’ via The Esteemed One (Henry Mitchell) who called it “supremely beautiful” and contrasted it with ‘Accent’ which he considered “coarse”. So of course I have never planted ‘Accent’ but have found myself admiring it in other gardens.

    ‘Passionale’ does not come up as reliably as ‘Salome’ but is worth growing.

    How can I disagree with Frances? But I think the bloom is salmon/apricot and not a traditional pink.

  • Pomona Belvedere January 8, 2009, 4:03 pm

    Frances, I haven’t heard of D. parvifolia ‘Milk Chocolate’ (although I do have upcoming posts about some of the less usual varieties which I have grown–or want to grow). I’d be curious to know where you found it, I dimly recall seeing something like it in T&M. I found a listing of it at Ivyhouse Nurseries in Hastings, but not much info. From the tiny picture I’m guessing the flowers would be shaped like D. ferruginea or D. laevigata, which are perennials. I’ll have to check some of my botanic sites, I’d be interested to know where D. parvifolia comes from.

    Daffodil Planter, ‘Bellsong’ is great: very pretty small-cup narcissus (officially a jonquilla hybrid by the great Grant Mitsch). It perennialized very nicely for me in semi-shade and clay soil, also not bad in containers. Has sparkling white held-back wings and a lovely deep peach cup (develops from yellow), very graceful altogether. Jonquillas are supposed to like sun, so I’d imagine it’d do well there, too.

  • Pomona Belvedere January 8, 2009, 4:09 pm

    NB – no one could ever accuse ‘Bellsong’ of being coarse, so you are safe there.

  • Karen - An Artists Garden January 14, 2009, 1:56 am

    I planted the seeds for this last year – and I am looking forward to seeing them flower this summer, interesting post Pomona

  • Pomona Belvedere January 14, 2009, 3:49 pm

    Karen, I hope you’re rewarded with many spires of apricot foxgloves. I’m going to splurge and buy a few plants of them this year.

    Daffodil Planter – I should have written ‘Bell Song’, not ‘Bellsong’ – your email alerted me with its correct spelling, very useful for anyone who wants to look this up!

  • wayne stratz January 16, 2009, 12:44 pm

    I love foxgloves, but I don’t grow them at the school. One way to weed out all the possible flowers is to eliminate the ones that can cause harm. But I do love them. Love the idea of the contest with yourself.

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