Late May is usually when the elegant foxglove is at its best. Springing from a rosette of soft downy leaves, they tower above most of the other plants in our beds, with elongated bell-like flowers, speckled pink to attract the bees. Beautiful to behold, yet deadly in the wrong doses, they have captured the collective imagination for centuries, featuring heavily in all our favourite childhood legends as apparel for fairies, goblins and elves, or gloves for the foxes and the fey.
Few flowers can boast such a variety of nicknames. From ladies’ thimbles and fairy bonnets to dead man’s bells and witches’s fingers, the latter ringing a warning note of the flower’s highly poisonous nature.
There is an old saying about the foxglove: ‘it can raise the dead or kill the living,’ and whilst it is deadly when eaten, it has saved many more lives than it has taken. Formally discovered in Shropshire by William Withering, it had long been used as an old wives hedgerow cure, brewed into a bitter tea to treat dropsy. His 1875 book marks the beginnings of modern pharmacology and drugs derived from the plant are now used to a great variety of ailments.
As a celebration of this magical flower – and a nod to that curative tea – we launched our foxglove pottery collection. It was a challenge to get the shape and character of these flowers onto our mugs but our fabulous team of artisans have done them justice, painstakingly sponging on the base shapes and then adding stems and speckled adornments by hand.
One of the great pleasures of a hand-crafted product is understanding the journey from inspiration to creation; taken from a glance in the garden, to a sketch, across two contents to a small factory where it has finally found its way onto our mugs, jugs and other kitchenware. Perhaps it sounds crazy, but knowing all this gives each product a little extra character!
As for me? When I sip my tea and look out of the garden window, there is a real reassurance in knowing that for centuries, people have been inspired by the foxglove, just as I have.