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Foxglove Secrets

I was planting foxgloves near the foundation of my house this morning. It’s an old foundation, made of blocks of sedimentary rock. Every time I work near it, I think of old things, lost and forgotten things.

So it was that my mind turned to foxglove secrets. Foxgloves are fancied as faerie flowers, herbs that have some connection to the mysterious wee folk of British gardens. They’re poisonous plants as well, being the source of the medicine digitalis, which in large doses can kill. As I dug, my mind started wandering to the idea that devoted gardeners of foxgloves might have secrets – at the very least, secrets for planting foxgloves.

So, I searched for the phrase foxglove secrets, and here’s what I found:

- Over at GardenWeb, a reader asks for secrets for growing foxgloves, and only gets the one real response, that the plants are biennials and self-seeding.
- Fox 4 Flowers offers some more information about foxgloves, including the etymylogical tip that the name foxgloves doesn’t have anything to do with foxes, but is an adaptation of the original name for the flowers: folk’s gloves, referring to the idea that faeries might wear the flowers on their fingers.
- Helen Burke, in her poem Foxgloves, writes that:

I keep some foxgloves in my secret cupboard.
They are as innocent as snow, sweet purple snow,
they can put a spell on you.
But do not fear them… they show you a simple face.

Spells sound secret enough, and what about that secret cupboard? Is it a suicide cupboard? There are easier ways to go than the heart contractions brought on by digitalis, surely.

How is purple snow innocent? If I see snow that’s purple, I don’t think of it as innocent, or sweet, unless it’s in a snowcone. Is Burke talking about going to a carnival?

I also want to know, if snow is innocent, what it is innocent of. Has snow been accused of a crime that it did not commit? And what about rain? Is Burke suggesting that rain is guilty of something?

I think I’m going to use this line the next time it rains, as people are preparing their umbrellas: This rain looks guilty to me.

The indiscretions of the rain may be the closest I get to foxglove secrets today.

1 comment to Foxglove Secrets

  • tonykw

    If you look hard you can find a variety of foxglove that has white blooms. These are the ones referred to in the poem. They’re a bit difficult to grow but once they’re established they will grow true to form – unless they’re pollinated by the purple variety.

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