Mrs. Acheson’s Garden
Fairy Flower Folklore and the Foxglove
According to British and European folklore, fairies love almost any flower, but, like us, they love some better than others. Cowslips, or “Fairies Cups,” are a favorite among the fairies. The flowers make perfect umbrellas or comfortable places to recline. Also called “Culver’s Keys,” they are considered keys that can be used to find and unlock the secret hiding places of fairy gold. Tulips, another favorite, serve as cradles for lulling wee ones off to sleep. The ringing of bluebells calls fairies together for their midnight dances. And, of course, what is a dance without fairy slippers?
While Mrs. Acheson had all of these flowers in her garden, along with many others, she favored the foxglove the most. Somewhere she had read that planting foxgloves was an invitation to fairies to enter your garden. Mrs. Acheson planted lots of foxgloves.
Bearing tall spires of bell-shaped flowers, the foxglove is also called Folk’s-glove, Elf’s glove, or Fairy-cap in the British Isles. There the wee-folk wear the flowers as hats, gloves, and petticoats and the dark purple spots found inside the flowers’ corollas mark the places where elves and fairies have placed their fingers. In Norway, its name is translated more closely to fox-bell or fox-music. According to Norwegian lore, fairies showed the foxes how to ring the floral bells so they could warn each other of hunters. The foxes also use the flowers as slippers so they can sneak quietly into chicken coops.
Because fairies love this plant so much, it is considered bad luck to harm it or bring it inside. At the same time, however, foxglove juice will ward off fairies who want to kidnap children. The flower also can be used to lure children back who have been taken away by the fairies. It’s a shame that Mrs. Acheson didn’t pay more attention to these last few bits of folklore.
Do you want to plant a fairy garden or learn more about flower folklore? Try these resources for a start:
Martin, Laura C. 1987. Garden Flower Folklore. The Globe Pequot Press, Chester, Conn;
Dyer, T.F. Thiselton. 1889. The Folklore of Plants. D. Appleton & Company, New York. (There are current reproductions of this book offered through Llanerch Press);
The Care and Feeding of Faeries by Lady Salom.