HOW TO GROW GLADIOLI
Anne Swithinbank offers expert tips and favourite varieties
WHILE steadily working our way through late autumn leaf raking, mulching and pruning, gardeners are planning for next year. You could say our plots turn wintry and bare in direct contrast to the colourful displays playing out in our busy minds!
If there’s a border failing to please, now’s the time to clear away unwanted plants, condition soil, analyse growing conditions and create something new. Lightly shaded beds might call for woodland plants but if you have sun, why not choose one showy flower? This can be a dahlia or tall Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) full of orange daisies – but for real glamour go for gladioli, bought as corms for spring planting.
Gladioli originate mainly from South Africa and Mediterranean regions, where they grow in meadows, on stony slopes and occasionally in marshy ground. From the 1950s to the 1970s, these were popular allotment flowers slotted in rows between onions and cabbages to provide unwieldy cut flowers for the house. Even the shorter ones look silly in my vases, and I much prefer them slotted into the garden, where their vertical, sword-like shapes – even in leaf and green bud – add accent and colour. Having survived a decade or two of ridicule, gladioli are back in force, with a pageant of exciting new cultivars. For a new border, I’m inspired by ‘Break of Dawn’, a smallflowered type with blooms that remind me of pale scrambled eggs. I can imagine it with a strong yellow, perhaps ‘Yellow Gem’, as well as a purple like ‘Violetta’, all small-flowered and reaching 28-36in (70-90cm) tall. Yet larger-flowered cultivars soaring to 36in-4ft (90cm-1.2m) are hard to resist. Flowering time depends on when the corms are planted from March to June, but is usually from July to October.
Lovers of the subtle and natural can seek out the species and their hybrids.
Nanus types are dainty, with each corm producing two or more flower spikes, while G. ‘Ruby’ and other cultivars with distinctive hooded flowers descend from the green, cream and purple South African G. papilio. Purple-pink Gladiolus
communis subsp. byzantinus loves a sunny border, and the creamy-white flowers of G. tristis are evening scented.
Proving they can naturalise well, these gladioli have been left in a border for six years and were still flowering in October in East Devon!
Mixed gladioli in a kitchen garden
The creamy white Gladiolus tristis