Gladioli are the most flamboyantly fantabulous of all the summer flowers. I love their gay abandon, their razzmatazz, the thrill, their carnivalesque, cirque-du-soleil, loud-and-proud, uncompromising joie-de-vivre.
Gladioli are easy-peasy to grow. Plant the corms in late spring, about 15cm deep and 10cm apart. They like good drainage, so add a handful of grit to the planting hole, and maybe a bit of compost if you have some to hand. You will notice spikes of bright green foliage a few weeks later, and then great elegant flower spikes will develop and flower in late summer. I don’t lift my gladioli, and in Kent at least, once planted, they seem to thrive on neglect. I just mulch them in winter.
Gladioli are generous creatures. They provide swords of fresh foliage in early summer, and then, when your back is turned, they’ve got a slim, corn-stalk stem of flower buds. This slowly plumps up and colours up at the base, until you have a wonderful buxom trumpet flower opening, one followed by another. There is a moment of peak perfection, when the gladioli shimmers and knows how good it looks. Indulge it. As the gladioli starts to go over, the petals of the older flowers take on a ‘dip-dyed’ effect, darker at the edges, and a tad dishevelled. I love this stage too; it has a lived-in look, which I always admire.
Gladioli are elegant from all angles, but you really appreciate their bone structure from behind. Just cut one stem for a tall vase or a wine bottle, to really study it (see Focus on a flower).
Gladioli ‘Tricolour’ (photo credit: J.Parkers) is the glorious beast pictured above. I adore warmest sunset peach with smoky plum. I suspect it won’t be quite as technicolour as that picture suggests, but still rather lush. As this is a fairly uncompromising glad, I would partner it with something more muted, which would pick up its plum tones. G. ‘Purple Flora’ would do the trick. Or ‘Black Velvet’, which is lush and gothy at the same time.
Gladioli ‘Green Star’ or ‘Evergreen’ are wonderful. I do love a lime-green flower. They combine well with everything, and add zing.
I have to apologise for the name of the next one. Misogyny penetrates all areas of life, and gardening is no exception. This gladioli is the most magnificent burnt-orange and burgundy monster. But it is named ‘Bimbo’. Even worse, on p.12 of my J.Parkers catalogue there is a dahlia called ‘Table Dancer’. I am renaming the gladioli ‘Bimbo Bites Back’. She looks as though she will. And I suggest we just veto ‘Table Dancer’ until it is renamed.
(Don’t get me started on racial stereotypes in plant names. This is even worse, I think).
Finally, my favourite gladioli, which I grow in my bright border is ‘Black Star’. This is the gladioli to outshine them all. It is the most seductive magenta, with deepest damson at its centre. Gladioli have reflective protrusions on the petals, which gives them an iridescent sheen. Look at it shimmer:
Oh, and I almost forgot, Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus. I LOVE this gladioli. This is the one you have to plant in autumn rather than spring, for a May flowering. It spreads, and provides gorgeous spikes of magenta to accompany alliums and geums.
I have a chequered history with this glad, though. It has proved elusive. I am after the deep magenta flags, but on ordering this a couple of years ago, I was disappointed to get quite small flowers of paler bubblegum pink. I had planted it with Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’, and the effect was, frankly, horrible. So I am trying again, and have planted a fresh batch, this time threaded through my rose garden (see Mouth-wateringly fruity roses). I will keep you updated!
Do you grow gladioli? If so, which ones? Do you feel the urge to rename varieties which give you the icks?