PoTM August: Gladiolus

Some years ago the late, great Christopher Lloyd sprung a shock on us gardeners. He started to use that seriously maligned, deeply unfashionable plant, the Dahlia, in his traditional herbaceous borders. And very soon they became the latest, trendy ‘new kids on the block’. The gardening world was taken by storm. However there are still one or two plants that seem to be the epitome of bad taste, notably the Gladiolus.

I first acquired a plant/bulb of the glorious, and hardy, Gladiolus ‘Ruby’ from the much-mourned Hadspen Nursery run by Nori and Sandra Pope. It is clearly a cross between G. papilio, with its globular shape, and a.n.other strong ruby-red gladiolus. I planted it in a very sunny part of the garden, adding a layer of horticultural grit at the bottom of the planting hole. ‘Ruby’ powers up through clumps of pink-and-white Lychnis coronaria and catches every eye throughout August. She is utterly gorgeous.

I have also tried Gladiolus byzantinus with its dusty magenta spires in April and May. But all too often the badger gets to them before they flower.
And I do not fail to grow a pot of the heavily scented G. murielae (Acidanthera murielae) from Abyssinia to put by my seat in autumn. Last year I attempted, yet again, to over-winter the bulbs to repeat-flower. I took them out of the pot, sorted out the bigger bulbs, and left them in my sunny, frost-free glasshouse to ripen. But they did not even try to perform.

This year I have planted some of the more conventional, tender, ‘glads’ not only in the cut-flower garden, but also in my borders. It’s a steep learning curve. They certainly bring a pizazz to ornamental grasses. They seem happy. But. Quite often the lengthening shoots have to twist their way around the neighbours. Sometimes they get quite tangled up and flower from curled stalks on the ground. They clearly like their own space in the sun. The recommendation is to regard them as summer-flowering tulips, so I will lift them in autumn to prevent dozens of mini-bulbs growing where once there was one, and store them in a frost-free shed. I shall keep trying. I will not give up.

Sally Gregson
August 2019

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