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.