Foxgloves at Warley Place

Most people will tell you to see Warley in March. It’s true that Ellen Willmott directed most of her efforts at creating a daffodil explosion of yellows, creams, whites and oranges for March, and they still glow in the early spring sunshine. A few will suggest going earlier, in February, when the place is a carpet of snowdrops, while others can’t wait for the blue-purple haze of a bluebell April. There are even the rhodophiles who visit just to try to work out which of Ellen’s rare rhododendrons and azaleas still flourish.

For me, though, nothing beats late May/early June when foxgloves fill Warley’s light woodlands.

Ellen was a foxglove fan herself – and once her recently-discovered 1908 plant list has been transcribed we should have some idea of just which varieties she favoured.

I’m willing to bet that none of these exist today. It’s possible Digitalis fanatics would be able to check via some sort of DNA test, but certainly at first sight I’d guess these have mostly reverted to their native state. Here’s an image I took with a film camera, using 35mm film that was 15 years out of date:

There are a few white strains which may have links to former glory, but the bulk of these woodland wildflowers are just that – wild. Another of my shots from that out of date film:

Bees love them, burrowing deep into each ‘glove’ for the nectar hidden inside and inadvertently covering their furry little hides with pollen.

Some cheeky little thieves don’t bother with the climb. They drill a hole into the flower and suck out the pollen, keeping their backs clean and failing to reward the plant for its bounty.

Foxgloves are biennials. The first year they just grow into fat little green rosettes, close to the ground. Year two, they shoot towards the sky and explode into a shower of little pink/purple bells. Later that year, millions of microscopic seeds carpet the ground, ready for the next year’s baby rosettes.

This means that Warley has definite ‘on’ and ‘off’ years. 2022 appears to be an ‘on’ year, so get visiting.

Warley Place is open all year, any reasonable hour. Please don’t bring your dog unless it is an assistance animal.

My book Miss Willmott’s Ghosts, a new biography of Warley’s keeper, Ellen Willmott, is now available from ‘all good bookshops’


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