Gladioli love Southern California. My grandmother always grew lots of them to cut and take to church, which is possibly why most gladiolus hybrids will always have an air of the sanctimonious for me. I am the furthest thing from a plant snob and would never write off entirely any genera, especially a summer-blooming bulb, but modern gladiolus hybrids for the most part are simply not worthwhile garden plants. Ungainly, tipsy, the hybridizer’s hand a little too heavy in laying on the ruffles. I admit I’m an incorrigible picture-straightener, and a stiffly leaning glad bloom can give someone like me fits. But every overhybridized hellion has a genetic precursor, and a few bulb houses like Old House Gardens are starting to pay attention to species gladioli and less ostentatious heirloom varieties. Annie’s Annuals & Perennials offers a good selection of species glads. I’ve given many of these a trial run in recent years, and the garden soil is riddled like fruitcake with bulb offsets of mostly kinds I don’t want to perpetuate in the garden. The weedy Gladiolus byzantinus impostor was a huge nuisance for a while, something I wish Gladiolus papilio, the Butterfly Gladiolus, would become. Both of these would be great meadow candidates. The smaller heirloom glads are lovely, like ‘Atom’ and ‘Boone,’ but I’ve found them difficult to place. My pursuit of a couple good summer border glads has to be scored as inconclusive so far. But a bulb’s greatest asset is the element of surprise. Once you fall under the spell of that neat little energy storage system, then all bulbs are truly purveyors of astonishment, like this forgotten, speckled gladiolus. It must have come in a mixed collection, since I have no memory of selecting it. This first bloom emerged today from the long, braided inflorescence. 3-feet tall and ram-rod straight, no need for staking. But its identity? I haven’t a clue now.


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7 Responses to glads

  1. Kaveh says:

    Gladiolus were some of the first things I planted in my very first garden. Even though they weren’t supposed to be hardy in northern NJ I had a Gladiolus ‘Atom’ that came back every year. I think I have some species seed to plant in the fall. I imagine that even if it germinates it will be years before I see a flower.

  2. Les says:

    At one time in parts near here, it was not uncommon to see glads rowed out and staked next to the butter beans and corn. The majority of them did end up on an altar is some church. Despite this, I love their form and range of colors.

  3. Hoov says:

    Also one of the first things I ever planted, and I’ve been pulling them out ever since. The species are better. Your unknown is beautiful. What about Sprekelia formosissima instead?

  4. Barry Parker says:

    Glad to hear that I’m not the only one to forget planting something. These are lovely surprises, but a little worrying as to the state of ones memory.

  5. I have a new respect for glads! Never really noticed them before.

  6. Denise says:

    I ended up cutting the glad for a vase — my eye kept tripping over it in the garden. Hoov, yes! I’ve tried sprekelia before many times. Sounds like you’ve had some success with it. My hat is off to you!

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