Saturday, 22 June 2013

Foxglove 'Illumination' ... dare I say, disappointing ?

Last year, like many others, I was extremely excited by the 'Plant of the Year 2012', a perennial foxglove called 'Illumination Pink', launched at Chelsea. It was hailed as the best thing since sliced bread, and it seemed that no garden could be complete without its charms. So, after an extremely long wait, I got me some! Three to be exact, and although I can't remember exactly how much they cost, I know they were not cheap.

Foxglove 'Illumination' is a hybrid, so does not set seed, utilising the little known Isoplexis (Canary Island Foxglove) which supposedly gives tropical colouring. It has a long flowering period and is a perennial, unlike most Foxgloves which are biennial. It is semi evergreen and should last for years. It says that the expected height is approximately 45cm (18 inches). Now I know it is early in the season, and there is still time for growth, but mine are 30cm tops !

A friend and I ordered them jointly, to save money, and when they came, she kindly kept them cuddled up in her greenhouse until Spring. When she handed them on to me, I also  nurtured them in my greenhouse before planting them out in a spell of nice weather in late March. I planted them out in well manured, good soil, in a mixed bed. To be honest, then I totally forgot about them, until my friend asked how they were doing, and what I thought about them.

I went out to look for them, and to be honest, I had to have a really good poke around the beds before I found them. They were certainly not the towering beacons of colour I had been expecting !

Do you know something ? I am not overly impressed! Maybe it is my fault, and I have not given them  their optimum conditions for growth, and maybe there are some of you out there, indignant at such negativity ! Maybe they were hyped up far too much, and my expectations were too high... but, for whatever reason, I am disappointed. My three plants are all small, about 30cm tall, and the flowers are ok, but not as exciting as I was led to believe. 'Illumination' is a cross with an exotic foxglove ... so I was expecting a large exotic flower.

I went out and took photos for this post, and when I viewed them, I realised that actually 'Illumination' looks far better through the lens than it does in the garden ! It looks more imposing, more exotic and more colourful ! Take it from me, you would walk past it in the garden without a second glance !

The pink is far more intense in the photo than in reality.

They may impress more as the season progresses, as they are supposed to have an extremely long flowering season... and of course they are perennial which gives them an advantage over any usual foxglove, which is biennial.

I will retain an open mind until the end of the season, but first impressions are that it is, sadly, quite an ordinary plant.

Am  I being Mrs Grumpy here ? Has it got charms which I just can't see? I can be persuaded ...


  1. Well, remember what they say: "The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap." I had some daffodils that had won awards too, and I got some, expecting them to look like the photos. I had them for FIVE YEARS and each year I was disappointed. I gave some away and kept a few. Now, in the SEVENTH year, they were absolutely glorious.

    Now that's a long time for something to live up to all the hype, but I'm glad I kept a few. They never looked like anything but a mess all those years, up until this year.

    So hang in there. Maybe in 2015, they'll be what you expected. Or maybe 2020. LOLOL

  2. There is hope then Kylee ! I had better keep the faith, then ! Roll on 2015 !

  3. I do not believe you are being overly-grumpy regarding the performance of your hybrid fox-glove. The horticulture industry has a vested interest in trademarking plants that won't reseed themselves. Reseeding biennials represent a market *loss.* Any gardener in a digitalis-friendly climate can have 150 centimeter foxglove yearly and reliably, even though it's a biennial, if they allow one or two stalks to go to seed. You can move the new seedlings (dozens and dozens of them) wherever you like in the garden in the early spring. It is only the first planting year that is bloom-less.

    Hybrids regularly perform poorly, in my experience... I tend to avoid them when I can; and I always try to warn myself that slick photos and copy-editing describing "new improved" plants are basically akin to McDonald's hamburger ads. The sandwich in the ad never looks anything like the nasty thing you get in the wrapper. My 2 cents, for whatever they're worth. Cheers!

  4. I think you are right. I was comparing the hyped-up 'Illumination' with biennials I have grown from seed and there is no comparison. The biennials are big, lush plants with large flowers , while illumination is one third their size and nothing like as lovely.
    My husband has a rule that he never buys any food in restaurants which have photos of the food they serve, maybe this is a similar situation. If you want authenticity - stick with the simple and unadulterated !

  5. This bright foxglove is pretty as well. Love it. You have a good day Jane :-)

  6. I'm fascinated to read your appraisal of these plants. I ordered some last year online. The bare rooted plants were duly delivered and I looked after them carefully, but of the six, only 4 seemed to grow at all. I complained to the company and they told me I had possibly not looked after them properly, but agreed to send the order again. Meanwhile the 4 which seemed viable struggled on in the ground, but stayed small (about 30cm) and produced a few very underwhelming flowers!! But since they are said to be "reliably perennial, unlike other foxgloves" , I forgave them, because it was their first year. Meanwhile the company had sent me another six, which I potted into large pots, thinking I would give them away to the National Garden Scheme to sell for charity, if the originals grew well. However! it is April now and the original four plants have disappeared without trace!! So not really reliably perennial! I have planted the replacement plants, which, it must be said, do not look very lively, and will see what happens this year. I'd love to know if anyone has had any success with these plants! I feel I've been duped......

    1. Hi, I am waiting to see if mine reappear this season - no sign so far (4.14). One of mine did pick up towards the end of last season, but the other turned up its toes and died. Not good!

  7. Totally agree, purchased these on special offer for 6 but they were still expensive, not one survived and I have never had trouble in growing any other type of Foxglove.
    The Best policy regarding any new type of plant is to WAIT !
    Let others try it out first as the hype often does not match the reality.

  8. They are still expensive this year, but the price is dropping. I agree that the best thing is to wait and see how new plants perform before buying.

  9. Hi all, I seem to be the exception then.... I had two of these last year as very small plants and put them in my *new raised bed of wooden sleepers - approx 3 feet deep soil*

    Last year they grew a fair size, lots and lots of stems and stopped. This year 2014 they bloomed, my word, SOO MANY!! each flower stem is about 2 foot high, they bloomed at the bottom then more and more flowers all the way up. I don't know how many stems I have in total, so many.

    Sadly we had VERY heavy rain last week and it hammered them, all have fallen, I should of staked them,, but the rain was really really heavy.

    They share my raised bed with lots of Lillies and Geraniums. I put one food tab in with each plant about April and watered daily when needed. They are south facing, very well protected part of the garden and we live in North Wiltshire.

    I wonder what they will do at the end of this season?
    Really really pleased with mine, so many flowers stems and lots of long lasting flowers blooming.

  10. Hi Martyn . I take it all back - mine are absolutely fantastic this season!

  11. They aren't like regular digitalis so you need to be sure to put them in full sun. I've had them in both (part shade and full sun) and they do outstandingly in full sun but can be very underwhelming in anything shady. So, not like our native digitalis which is where I think there's been some confusion. 'Foxglove' yes, but not as we usually know it.

  12. What a nonsense have you been giving them weed killer

  13. As one of the parents of this plant is the Canary island foxglove (Isoplexis canariensis) I would have thought it wouldn't be at all hardy and would require lifting in late autumn to be overwintered somewhere frost free. Having read through this thread it sounds as though some growers have left them to survive the winter outside.
    As I enjoy growing half hardy plants I will see how mine gets on over the coming months!

  14. Mine are fantastic but definitely biennial, did not bloom at all last year and nearly got yanked. Sun may be the answer.

  15. Mine are fantastic but definitely biennial, did not bloom at all last year and nearly got yanked. Sun may be the answer.

  16. Mine all died at -4c after having done very well in my garden and flowering well in the first year. I fed them fish blood and bone in part shade and they loved it. I was so disappointed to find none of them are hardy, they shouldn't be marketed as such, but no surprise having worked in garden centers for too long.

  17. My understanding is these are half hardy. I have the raspberry variety of D.illumination. Much deeper colour, than the variety in your pics. And only £4.50 at my local garden centre, though I have seen them very expensive elsewhere. I have just the one at the moment, but have sown some mixed perennial seed also, as insurance. I think it was tompson seed, it was cheap at £1.99 for 1000's and germinated well. I don't know the varieties. I will have to wait until they flower but I think there are quite a few perennial digitalis species, hopefully some will be fully hardy.


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