FOXGLOVE, Digitalis purpure
IT is proper that the fox should be provided with a glove, for, as a midnight marauder, a muffled hand may be of the first importance in the prosecution of his business. Opinions differ as to the precise meaning of the familiar name of this, the noblest of our British wildings; the botanical name Digitalis is of German origin--that is to say, a German botanist fitted the plant with a Latin name, because up to his time, 1542, it had not been recognized in either Greek or Latin. Dr. Prior is decisive about "foxglove;" but for all that, those learned in the definition of names have had much to say about it. Digitalis is from digitabulum, meaning "thimble;" and the flower may be likened to the simple household appliance for the comfort of a wounded digit known as a "thumb-stall," or soft thimble. But what does the fox want with such a thing? The assumption with which we open this paper, that as a footpad he would like to follow his trade quietly, seems not to help us much, even in the region of fancy; for, to put the case in another way, the fox does not want a glove or a thumb-stall, he wants four seven-league silent boots! In Norway the plant is not the fox's glove, but the fox's bell, to provide him with music in the gloaming. In the Anglo-Saxon there is no such name as foxglove, but foxes-gliew, for it happens that the flowers, as they hang from the slightly arching stem, resemble the ancient musical instrument, consisting of bells attached to a rod, that was called gliew, and used for the production of bell-music. It may occur to the inquiring reader, whether the men who likened the flower of this plant to a tintinnabulum might not have done better, in the gratification of their fancy, to select a Campanula, or "bell-flower." Another view of the subject makes this the folk's glove, or fairies' glove; but we may suppose it large enough for a fairies' house--that is, for some sorts of fairies. We now make a conjecture which is at all events original. This is a spotted flower; a spotted picture or book is called "foxy," and by parallel, a spotted thimble may be a foxy glove. If the adjective "foxy" is of respectable antiquity, the proposal acquires respectability; but we suspect it is of modern origin and of poor lineage.
The distribution of the plant and its geographical characters are matters of some interest. It is, in one sense, universal; but in the Eastern counties it is scarce and poor, in the Western counties abundant and splendid, while in the Midlands it very much avoids valleys and open plains, but attains to a distinct power in the summer season wherever the rainfall is considerable. Thus, in the dales of the Peak district, and throughout the Lake country, and all through the western coasts, on hard rock, on poor gravel, and on railway banks, the foxglove is conspicuous for frequency and splendour. Perhaps nowhere in England is there a finer display of its flowers than on the road from Buxton to Leek, and in but few places does it attain to such richness of colour as on that road, and also on the water-shed over which passes the railway line between Dolgelly and Llangollen, in mid-Wales.
When grown as a garden flower the foxglove should never be planted in a dry, breezy, starving situation. To be elevated is quite to its liking, if it is sheltered by leafy surroundings; but often an elevated site is too arid for this moisture-loving beauty, and the fernery, or any snug nook of a leafy kind and a little wild in character, would promote a fine growth, and at the same time set off the peculiar beauties of the plant. We have never seen foxgloves more happily placed for decorative effect than on the rockery in the Royal Gardens, Kew, where, in truth, they constitute what is called a sensation, for at the entrance to the defile they rise high above our heads, and we see their fine spires of purple, rose, crimson, and pure white flowers, partly against the blue sky and partly against congenial greenery.
In common with lilies, foxgloves associate well with rhododendrons; and although in a mixed border the third or fourth row is the proper place for them, they appear to be placed no matter where they are, and therefore, when self-sown plants occur where they seem intrusive, it is well to leave them undisturbed if possible, for the chances are all in favour of a surprising success in the end. In any and every case a good clump is better than a few single plants, and it matters not how the sorts are mixed; in fact, the more mixing the better.
To raise a stock of plants, the seed should be sown in April or May in pans or boxes, and the young plants should have a little nursing in a frame, and be put out when large enough where they are to remain for flowering. A sowing of seed should be made every year, for although many of the plants will flower a second, and even a third time, a considerable proportion will die off after once flowering. To promote the perennial character, the seed-pods should be assiduously removed as the flowers wither, and from the finest only should seed be taken for keeping up the stock.
A yellow foxglove is sometimes inquired after. There is no such thing. But there are yellow species of Digitalis, such as D. grandiflora and D. lutea, although they are not of any special value as garden plants.
Title: FOXGLOVE, Digitalis purpure Copyright 2002 by PageWise, Inc.
Copyright 2002 by PageWise, Inc.
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