Foxgloves and bluebells

As I type this blog I’m sitting in the gorgeous wee gallery An Talla Dearg at Eilean Iarmain on the Isle of Skye. I think it’s meant to rain tomorrow, but I’m just going to enjoy the sunshine and the smiley art loving visitors for now.

We’re currently into the first full week of my joint exhibition with Aileen Grant Art and Steven Proudfoot. This our third time here, but the first Summer exhibition for us, we’re here till the 23rd of this month, so lots of time to pop in if you are in the area

I really loved the experience of getting ready for the Flora Gadelica (or Lusan nan Gaidheal in Gaelic) at Gairloch Heritage Museum, but this exhibition almost came too quickly for me. I did manage to make some new art, a mixture of landscapes and botanicals, but I haven’t had time to do much else over the last couple of weeks and would ideally have liked just a wee longer to prepare.

However, I’m not complaining! It really is a wonderful space to show work and I am very blessed to be sharing the gallery with two such talented and experienced artists as Aileen and Steven.

However, I did promise that I would blog in more detai about the plants that I painted for Gairloch. so for this particular post I’m going to share some more information about Bluebells and Foxgloves.

When I painted the bluebells and foxgloves for Flora Gadelica I had to rely on my sketches and photographs, though I was able to use the leaves, which had already begun to emerge. For the An Talla Dearg exhibition the road verges and hedgerows are full of these gorgeous plants, so, of course I had to paint more!

Foxgloves are very much a part of Scots folklore and there is plenty of information about them in the reference books that I used. Scottish Plant Lore, An Illustrated Flora, by Gregory J Kenicer. and, of course Flora Celtica, Plants and People in Scotland by Willian Milliken and Sam Bridgewater, but for some reason bluebells, were not included in Scottish Plant Lore. However, The Woodland Trust has some great information about both plants, just in case you want to read more about them

Hyacinthoides non-scripta bluebell        bròg na cuthaig

The common bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta is everywhere right now. The low lying fields near the gallery are full of them and the air nearby full of their sweet scent. Non-scripta means unmarked, these are the native bluebell and are quite distinct from their Spanish cousins. Non-scripta is smaller and has all its florets on the same side of the stem, which gives it that bent over nodding appearance. Hispanica is taller, it has florets all around the stem and stands straight and tall, but has no scent.

Bluebells, like snowdrops are a protected by section 7 of the Wildlife and Countryside act and neither the bulbs or the seeds can be collected.

In Gaelic the bluebell is known as Bròg na cuthaig, which means (in English) cuckoo shoe, which I think is one of my favourite translations.

Luckily I had a lot of sketches and photographs of bluebells as I taught a botanical art course on painting them, with West Highland College last year, so it was fairly easy to paint some for the Gairloch exhibition.

Right now they are abundant and indeed, it seems like a particularly good year for them, so I could resist painting another bluebell, along with ajuga and wild strawberries for the exhibition at An Talla Dearg.


Digitalis Foxglove      Lus nam Ban-sìth

The roadsides and verges will soon be full of foxgloves, (Digitalis purpurea)there are some around right now, but the up to 2m giants will be a familiar sight in a few weeks. They flower in Scotland from June to August. They are biennial herbs and have soft, downy, slightly grey leaves and those oh, so distictive purple-pink thimble like flowers, which have evolved to be particularly attractive to carder bees

There are various theories as to where the English name comes from, one is that the name was corrupted from “folks’ glove’, which has similarities with the ‘fairy flower’ in Gaelic. Another theory is that the name is literal and foxes do secretly where them as gloves to silence their feet when hunting. Wouldn’t that be interesting to see.

They certainly do look magical with their bright pink bell shaped flowers and their distinct markings, which some myths suggest are fairy handprints and stories about them are found throughout folklore. In the Borders, foxglove leaves were placed in a baby’s cradle to keep new-born babies from being bewitched, in England and Wales it was believed to have been a common practice to rub the juice of the leaves on the skin of ‘changeling’ children, though in Scotland one Isobel Haldane confessed to accidently poisoning a changling child, whilst trying to commune with the faery folk and the flowers were used in love charms in many places. But be sure to enjoy them outside and do not bring them indoors as they are thought to be unlucky

Foxgloves are poisonous, all parts of the plants contain compounds called cardiac glycosides, including digitoxin and digoxin. Ingesting even a small amount of these can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and an irregular heartbeat. In small amounts though, digoxin can be used to manage abnormal heart rhythms.

Foxgloves were amongst the Robbie Burns’ favourite flowers as evidenced by a letter he wrote to his friend Mrs Dunlop:

“I have some favourite plants in spring, among which are the mountain daisy, the harebell, the foxglove and the wild briar rose.”

Burns also uses the foxglove in his poem Elegy On Captain Matthew Henderson:

“Mourn, little harebells o’er the lea; Ye stately foxgloves fair to see.”

The foxglove was a bit of a challenge for the Gairloch exhibition as they were not in flower when I was preparing. There were leaves and stalks growing in my garden though. So I was able to use them as the basis for my painting. I had also taken lots of photos and done a number of sketches, so I did manage to paint something, which looked quite realistic I think.


These last few weeks have been frantically busy at times,and even though I wrote the majority of this blog on Monday at the gallery, I’ve only just found time to edit it now, at 9.30 on Wednesday evening. I’ve spent today framing, making cards and getting ready for a workshop I’m running at the Plock in Kyle on Saturday afternoon for Kyle and Lochalsh Community Trust if you want to know more contact / or phone 01599 534505.

Talking of cards, all of my Gairloch botanicals will soon be available as greetings cards via my Etsy shop and I’m currently investigating having A4 prints (reproductions) made of the more popular ones. I’ll keep you posted on developments. I’m at the gallery again tomorrow, I’ll be doing a mini rehang, now that my frames arrived and I’m taking my paints so that I can make some art.

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