Bimbo bites back

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).

I buy my gladioli from various sources: this year it is J.Parkers , but on previous years I have shopped at Sarah Raven.  Both are great, and there are other suppliers out there!

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?

33 Comments Add yours

  1. Flighty says:

    I like gladioli so generally grow some on the plot. This year I’ve bought the variety Break O’Dawn which is white/yellow to go with others I lifted and stored from last year which include white ones and the yellow variety Cha Cha. I agree that some variety names are a bit naff! xx

    1. Ali says:

      Ooh yes. They both look nice. I quite like the camp names, but there is a line you can cross into distasteful and downright offensive.

      1. Flighty says:

        I’ve grown various colours over the years but yellow and white are favourite flower colours hence these varieties. I agree with you about the names. xx

  2. annpappas says:

    Another South African export, here is a link to one of our many species: I haven’t tried to grow them in our current garden.

  3. Ali says:

    Thanks, Ann, I will check out that link. So many of my favourite plants are SA exports. For anyone else interested, Ann’s blog is really informative and she posts a flower of the day, with all sorts of interesting info. Find it here:

    1. bcparkison says:

      You are right. ann’s blog is interesting. How can we follow .I didn’t see a click.

      1. Ali says:

        Try clicking on her name. Does that work?

  4. Tish Farrell says:

    Fantabulous indeed. Gladioli have truly upped their game in recent years.

    1. Ali says:

      Ah. I’ve only been gardening for 8 years and I think they’ve been on the rise since then, but I do recall reading about associations with Dame Edna!

      1. Tish Farrell says:

        Yes, she gave them a very bad press!

  5. I love “Bimbo bites back”! That is great. I did not even think of racism and sexism creeping into horticulture, but that makes sense!

    1. Ali says:

      I nearly spat out my tea when I saw ‘Table Dancer’! This did come the week of the President’s Club scandal, so it was timely. But it did make me think how society is suffused with these subtle messages that it’s all good fun, and it is benign. I’m not having it, Shelly!!!

      1. bcparkison says:

        Me too! We have enough stereotyping going on. Leave the flowers alone. Not sure,well really I am sure, the creator is in favor of this.

  6. I have given virtually no thought to flower names, but now think I should. Reading your words I can tell how deeply passionate you are about these beautiful things. To think they would be named with monikers to give us the icks is a shame. How interesting names are! What we call a thing says as much about the thing as it does about us. This bears thinking about in many realms of life.

    1. Ali says:

      It does, Angela. There are turns of phrases that I would have used a year ago that I am no longer using. Subtle mind control! My daughters pick me up on it now!

  7. Interesting the point you make about Byzantinus. We have found the same in that you don’t seem to be able to get the magenta ones anymore. If you have a source we would love to hear about it. Stephen

    1. Ali says:

      I will try to trace back where I bought mine from this year, and if they are satisfactory, will let you know!

  8. Tiny Urban Farmer says:

    My first time this year and I accidentally order way too many ‘Plum Tart’ gladioli (if possible) RHS has a sale 3 for 2 but I need to learn to count how many are in a bag -luckily I like the colour so it wont be a bad thing.

    1. Ali says:

      Oh, ‘Plum Tart’ is gorgeous! I grew it in my last garden. You can’t have too many!

  9. bcparkison says:

    Funeral flowers..I have never grown them but they are beautiful.

    1. Ali says:

      Oh, I didn’t know they had that association.

      1. bcparkison says:

        They are hardy and take up space and make a statement.

  10. Chloris says:

    I don’t much like the big Dame Edna gladdies but I love the dainty Gladiolus nanus and it comes in lovely colours. My favourite though is Gladiolus tristis. It is very sophisticated, pale green and slightly scented. It is not totally hardy, and that reminds me I meant to give it a fleece hairnet before the snow and I forgot. I hope it’s ok.

    1. Ali says:

      Ooh. They are very pretty, Chloris! Yes, a few things are looking soggy and disheveled in my garden this morning.

  11. Laura says:

    Gladiolus do not survive the winter here in Minnesota so they are grown as annuals or dig up for the winter. I do not grow them but some people grow them for flowers to sell at the farmers market. They are such beautiful flowers 🙂

    1. Ali says:

      Ah, that is annoying that they are not hardy enough. But good that you can get them at market.

  12. I just picked up some gladioli bulbs for my garden, along with some dahlias to plant. I haven’t had much luck with gladioli before, so I hope for better luck this time. The hummingbirds we get will probably love them!

    1. Ali says:

      VERY jealous of the hummingbirds!

      1. They are so much fun to observe! I had a baby hummingbird in the yard last summer. Whenever I plant new flowers, I always keep them in mind. Sometimes they fly right up to my face, hover and check me out!

      2. Ali says:

        OMG! That’s incredible!

  13. Reblogged this on Horticulturist and commented:
    “Misogyny penetrates all areas of life, and gardening is no exception.” 1000% reblog and agree! Great post.

  14. “Misogyny penetrates all areas of life, and gardening is no exception.” 1000% agree! Great post.

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