Gladiolus adds a touch of summer glamour
Gladiolus is a full-on flower. It makes a huge spike of flowers from a relatively small corm in a matter of months from planting in April. And this is not a once-off flowering, as it can flower in the same garden, with some well-placed assistance, for many years. It is such a large and dramatic flower that it can make a big difference to a garden over a few weeks in July and August. The individual flowers can be as much as 15 centimetres across and some varieties may carry up to 20 flowers per stem, in a staggered row of blooms that can be 40 centimetres long. Few plants can generate that amount of brilliant flower colour.
The flowers open in succession from the bottom of the spike, a process that prolongs the flowering period for several weeks. The plant is especially beautiful as the first flower opens, but when only the last one at the top of the spike is left, it still makes a colour contribution. Gladiolus are excellent cut flowers, which is the main reason why so many hundreds of named varieties have been raised.
The stems are cut when the first flower bud is just about opening and the flowers continue to open in the shop before sale and then in the vase for about two weeks. While most people grow their gladiolus for garden colour, it is good to cut some stems for use indoors. When placing the stems in a vase, try to keep them upright, or close to upright, because the tip of the shoot will take a sharp upward bend if the stem is placed off vertical.
Gladiolus is available in a remarkable range of colours - red, orange, yellow, pink, salmon, peach purple and white. There are even blue forms. Many tints and shades of the colours mentioned have been bred as the species have been extensively hybridized since the early decades of the 19th Century.
The plants grow from flattened corms, not bulbs as such, and it is a member of the iris family. They are best planted as a group, because a single stem, or a few widely separated stems look a bit lost. Gladiolus is easy to grow. It likes rich, well-drained soil in a sunny position. The corms are not completely hardy but can be lifted for winter and stored in a shed in a tray.
But if the corms are planted in well-drained sandy soil, they can be left in the ground and will survive, given a shake of fertiliser each spring, and kept free of weeds. The yellow and salmon-coloured kinds seem to last better. Try to find places when the bare lower stems are hidden by other plants in front but the spectacular flowers will have a good dark backdrop.