Foxgloves, Folk’s Gloves

Foxgloves are folk’s gloves, as in the little wee folks, aka fairies.

This is the favorite plant of the fairies above all others, Digitalis ssp.. The Latin adjective Digitalis (from Digitabulum, a thimble) has been used to also describe the finger of a glove. The name foxglove is a corruption of the term folk’s glove, meaning the wee folk, one of the many monikers given to the fairies over the ages.

Other names for the bell shaped flowers of Digitalis include Witches’ Gloves, Dead Men’s Bells, Fairy’s Glove, Gloves of Our Lady, Bloody Fingers, Virgin’s Glove, Fairy Caps, and Fairy Thimbles.

There is lore galore on this plant. It has long been associated with magical beings and the herb itself can both kill and heal humans. Previous posts about foxgloves can be seen by clicking here-(2008) and here-(2010). Above shot is Digitalis parviflora ‘Milk Chocolate’.

No fairy garden should be without foxgloves, Digitalis ssp., and the Fairegarden is full of them. The mottlings of the blossoms of the foxglove, like the spots on butterfly wings and on the tails of peacocks and pheasants, are said to mark where the elves had placed their fingers and/or footsies. Most of what we grow is Digitalis purpurea, although other species have been tried, as well.

Little footprints of the fairies are visible inside this one, some are even larger in size, maybe a sliding cha cha cha was done in here. If you follow the footprints like in a learn to dance illustration, you may find yourself doing the very same dancesteps!

The fairy lore mentions, besides dancing, sleeping and the wearing of the flowers as hats, skirts and shirts. Some of the fashion forward fairies apply embroidery stitched with spider webbing to personalize their attire, especially using monograms of twirling initials.

Foxglove, Digitalis, is used in fairy magic, and for the evocation of elves or earth elementals. The leaves are said to grant release from fairy enchantment. Planting foxglove is an invitation to fairies to enter your garden.

Wearing foxglove is a charm to attract fairy energy. The juice of the plant is said to be effective in breaking fairy enchantments, which are sometimes naughty and downright cruel, as in the stealing of babies and children.

The poem The Stolen Child by William Butler Yeats tells the story of just such heart-rending mischief. We prefer our fairy tales to be more light hearted, but these words are compelling with their belief in the enchantment of the fae.

The Stolen Child
by William Butler Yeats

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.


There was a flurry of all things fairy in the first year of the Fairegarden blog, there is a page devoted to listing those early posts which can be seen on the sidebar list of pages or by clicking here. The time has now come for renewed writing in that genre since the creation last fall of the beginnings of a new fairy village here. Stay tuned to the post category of *Fairies*.


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27 Responses to Foxgloves, Folk’s Gloves

  1. I love this post! I have foxglove “alba’ which doesn’t have any fairy footprints. You have a great variety of folk’s gloves and it has inspired me to add more! Have a great weekend Frances!

    Hi Karin, thanks, you too have a wonderful weekend. We need rain! This has been the best year for foxgloves ever, and I too need more!

  2. Barbara H. says:

    I love this post, too! I have wonderful foxgloves blooming their heads off this year. But I also have a little fairy area on the edge of my woods where a cave was formed when former owners dumped a slab of concrete curbing at an angle. I placed a small miniature metal chair inside as a fairy chair or throne. The slab has moss growing on it and dirt on top with some clumps of daffodils, etc. nearby. I just recently cleared away some of the invasives (again!) and now I know I need to put some foxgloves out there. Thanks, Frances!

    Hi Barbara, you fairy cave sounds so fun! Adjusting the plantings and playing like it is a dollhouse turns us back into little kids. I need to make time to play out there in the fairy area more and let the imagination run free with it. The foxgloves are having the best year is a long time.

  3. Beautiful foxgloves in so many colors. I have only one variety Grandiflora which is a perennial variety, not biennial.


    Hi Eileen, thanks. I have a few Grandifloras which are not quite open just yet, and some others. It is the purpureas that put on the show, they are so much larger in every way. I still like the little species and will always grow them, too. One can’t have too many foxgloves!

  4. indygardener says:

    Love the garden fairy lore. I need more foxglove.

    Thanks Carol. We all need more foxgloves.

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Looking forward to more fairy posts and poems. The do lend an enchantment to the garden. Have a great weekend.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. Gardens and fairies go together like spring and poetry. You too, have a great weekend.

  6. I should have my first blooms from my foxgloves–( started from seed last year)–these pictures are beautiful. I can’t wait to have some of my own.

    Hi Stacy, thanks. Good luck with your foxgloves!

  7. What a delightful post. Love the spikes of “hair” on the chinny chin chin of the foxglove in the tight close up. This is my first season without any volunteers showing back up…I wonder if it was something that I said that they all decided to desert me? I must purchase a new one and whisper sweet nothings to it so it feels secure and welcome.

    Hi Michaele, thanks so much. I love what the macro shots show on the flowers, things my poor eyes don’t see out in the garden. Buying foxgloves is a fine way to make sure you have plenty of them. I buy them all the time when I can find little ones in small pots. Need to look for more!

  8. Love the fae lore, inspires me to make a tiny little garden in hidden spot for them!

    Hi Ravensmist, what a delightful name! Every garden needs a secret spot for the fairies, is my opinion anyway.

  9. Rose says:

    I haven’t had much luck with foxgloves returning for me–no wonder the fairies don’t visit my garden! But I can see you’ve created a paradise for them, Frances. Looking forward to seeing more of the fairy village development and hearing about the antics of the villagers. Perhaps another Midsummer Eve’s party report is in the works?

    Hi Rose, thanks. Most foxgloves are biennials, after they bloom it is all over. Sometimes the main stalk can be cut after flowering to produce smaller side shoots. I let the main stalk set and mature the seed for the best results of babies. Lay the stalk on open ground once the seed heads start to open and cover with chicken wire to keep digging critters out of there. As for the fairy village, who knows what is in store?

  10. Faire, I’ve never read that poem. Thank you. Do you start your foxgloves indoors or do you buy plants? Do you sow seed directly in the fall? I’m curious. I always must buy plants and let them flower. I haven’t done well with starting them indoors. Here, we can grow them in the dappled sunlight.

    Hi Dee, thanks for visiting. In the past I have started seeds indoors and sown them outside whenever I think to do so. The best results have come from what I told Rose in her comment: I let the main stalk set and mature the seed for the best results of babies. Lay the stalk on open ground once the seed heads start to open and cover with chicken wire to keep digging critters out of there. I also buy small plants at local nurseries whenever I see them for bloom the next year. Dappled sun is best here, too, or morning sun where the main bed shown in this post is located.

  11. cathywieder says:

    I love this post! Our foxgloves aren’t blooming yet (but they are promising to!) and I will surely look at them through a completely different set of eyes when they do! We love fairies here too.)

    Hi Cathy, thanks so much. Foxgloves have to be one of the most wonderful of the cottage flowers. We have to take good care of those garden fairies, don’t we?

    • cathywieder says:

      I leave them bits of sparklies and chocolate. Do you do that too??? I also speak to them and let them know when I am weeding and tending the garden so they know I am not ruining their home.

      That sounds like a good course of action, Cathy. I do leave little cute stuff around and always talk, mainly to myself, while puttering in the garden. Same thing with the turtles, the talking that is.

  12. I adore foxgloves…but usually just have to buy them for the season…I don’t have much luck getting them to come back or multiply. Love your post about this gorgeous flower…I knew there was a reason they make me happy! Fairies are always welcome in my garden!!

    Hi Miss Bloomers, thanks. I also buy plants whenever I see small ones for sale, we just can’t have too many of them for the fairies to be happy.

  13. How lovely are all your foxgloves! I really need to get some. They were naturalized in the woods around the house where I grew up, and I thought they were native to Illinois for the longest time. The spire shape of the bloom column makes such an excellent counterpoint to the mounded forms of other June (here in Northern IL, anyway) blooms. The common name foxglove is the most popular because of the once common belief that to use the name/word “faerie” was to call them, and in that tradition, faeries were not tiny, benign little beings, but were the frightening beings shown in the poem you’ve quoted.

    Hi MMD, thanks for adding in here. It seems the fairies of the US are benign and sweet, not those scary child-stealers of medieval Europe and other places, thank goodness! You do need some foxgloves.

  14. Just beautiful, Frances…. your photos and descriptions, the poem … all of it. Not enough time today to read it all, but I’ll be back later on. There are no foxgloves in my garden now and I’m feeling nostalgic for them!

    Hi DJ, thanks for those kind words, I do appreciate you. The beauty of these posts is that they will always be there for people to read, maybe even after I am long gone. If anyone wants to, that is. Or that is what WordPress told me! You need some foxgloves.


  15. What a fun post! I don’t think I’d ever heard of most of the alternate names you listed. I’ve only ever known them as foxgloves. I also had no idea those speckles were actually fairy footprints! I have a few Digitalis here, but they all seem to be volunteers from our neighbor’s property, or maybe the fairies planted them? Providing they’re nowhere near where the goats can reach them, I leave them where they grow. Here I mostly find pink or white ones. I really do love the color of the ‘milk chocolate’ variety though, it’s beautiful.

    Hi CV, thanks. Lucky you to have volunteers. I have more pinks, which were probably from a packet of Apricot seeds sown long ago. Milk Chocolate was sown in the greenhouse a couple of years ago and each year a couple of the 20 or so plants bloom, then usually die. I was hoping for a mass showing, but that has not happened so far. They are still cute.

  16. Linda says:

    Hey, Frances! I hope you realize that you have one of the most beautiful blogs on the internet! You never fail to make me smile, entertain me and educate me. And with so many folks gloves, perhaps it should be called “Fairy Garden”. This was one of my mother’s favorite flowers. She’s been gone for years now, but every time I see a rose or fox glove, I think of the greatest woman I have ever known! This makes it the second time that you have made me cry, for happy. BTW…..I’m tremendously smitten with the white one with burgundy interior (or should I say black cherry?)

    Thank you so much, Linda, you are so sweet to say those things. I am glad you enjoy Fairegarden. I am sorry for the loss of your mother, I lost mine many years ago and also feel she was the greatest. She also loved roses above all else, even though she was not a gardener. I love so many flowers, it would be hard to pick just one favorites, like my children. But foxgloves are right up there. The white one with the dark markings is called Pam’s Choice, if you ever come upon that one.

  17. gail says:

    Frances, Your folk’s gloves are beautiful. I do like the photo with the maple in the back and love, love Digitalis parviflora ‘Milk Chocolate’~that’s new to me. I might have to try that one~anything with chocolate in the name must be good! They might not like my garden, but, I can admire them in yours. xoxogail

    Hi Gail, thanks. I too, am attracted to anything with the name chocolate in it, so perfect for the Black Garden. That’s my excuse, anyway.

  18. Lynn Hunt says:

    Beautiful, Frances. I will enjoy your foxgloves because it doesn’t look like any of mine are coming back from last year. Oh well, I’ll try again!

    Hi Lynn, thanks. Most foxgloves are biennial, dying after bloom, and even the perennial ones are short lived. We must depend on seedlings to keep the show going, with the seed best sown in late summer, or young plants set out in the fall to bloom the next year.

  19. spurge says:

    What a beautiful and informative post! I am planting foxgloves (the yellow grandiflora ones) in my garden right now, and my daughter asked why they were called that. Now I know how to answer! Fairy gloves – she will love it! That Yeats poem is one of my favorites, also the song version of it by Loreena McKennit.

    Hi Spurge, thanks. How sweet to be planting foxgloves with your daughter, teach her well, and I know you will! The poem is beautiful yet disturbing, isn’t it? I have not heard the song, and will have to check that out, thanks. I love the grandifloras, scatter the mature seed about for babies.

  20. Looking forward to it Frances…I adore fairies and foxgloves…love the folklore…hoping my foxgloves come out this year for me and the fairies

    Hi Donna, I hope so, too. Every garden needs foxgloves and fairies!

  21. commonweeder says:

    Great post with such beautiful photos. I have a few perennial yellow foxgloves, but you make me think I should try some of the others. They are so beautiful.

    Hi Pat, thanks so much. I love all of the foxgloves, the purpurea are so tall here, the grandiflora and ferruginea are much shorter. All beautiful, as you say.

  22. Diane says:

    Many years ago I went with my women’s circle to an island off Vancouver to walk the labyrinth there. Surrounding the stone circle stood a small forest of foxgloves, each bending and swaying as if to their own fairy music. These were the wild ones, all shades of purple and cerise. Ravens flew over head and they came so close you could hear the creaking of their wings. It was a magical day and after walking the labyrinth we did what all women do best…we shared food for a picnic. Blessings, Diane.

    That sounds wonderful, Diane.

  23. I love, love, love Foxgloves! I almost bought a very healthy specimen at my garden center today, but the instructions said Foxgloves prefer sun and I have a shady garden. It looks like yours grow in partial shade, is that right? I’ve tried a couple of times before to grow them with no luck. I’m not ready to give up, though. I want to try them in a different spot. Lovely post!

    Hi Plant Postings, thanks. I have foxgloves in both full sun and partial shade and they do equally well in both settings. Plant them where you can best enjoy them! Be aware that they are biennial and will die after blooming. Let the seed heads mature on the stalk, then cut the stalk and place it over some bare earth. The foxgloves do not like competition when germinating. I put chickenwire over it because cats and squirrels are constantly digging wherever there is bare soil. I then move the seedlings where I want them to grow in early spring/late winter of the next year.

  24. Lola says:

    Such a lovely post Frances. I am always in awe. I love your garden & the eloquent way of you writings. I do so enjoy your poems, so refreshing.

    Thanks Lola, you are too kind. I am glad you enjoy the posts, I do enjoy writing them.

  25. I have a serious case of craving your gloves! I finally have a spot that I think is okay and planted a few this year–that are supposed to bloom the first year. So far, just foliage! Maybe in the future.

    H Freda, thanks. Good luck with your foxgloves, they are supposed to be critter proof, too.

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