G is for Gladioli :: A to Z of Gardening

Every year, I like to try a new plant in my garden. It’s a good way to learn, and stops me feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of different shrubs and perennials that are out there! This year, I’ve chosen gladioli.

Why Grow Gladioli?

Some of you reading this might be thinking, “Ugh, no, not gladioli. My granny used to grow those!” I urge you not to be put off by the fussy, old-fashioned reputation of these beautiful flowers. Okay, so “gladdies” are Dame Edna’s favourite flower. But since she is simply fabulous and a redoubtable fashion icon, that should a reason for, not against them. And remember Morrissey, waving his glads about on stage while singing This Charming Man? That’s another point in their favour, surely.

If you are unmoved by Dame Edna and Morrissey, then be convinced by this: gladioli are statuesque in form, rich in colour and texture, and can add much needed height to herbaceous borders. What’s more, they’re dead easy to grow and make wonderful, long-lasting cut flowers. And if dahlias and chrysanthemums are considered cool again, then why not good old glads?!

I should disclose here, that I am slightly cheating when I say I’m growing gladioli for the first time this year, as I did grow a handful last year. But I was rather half-hearted about it and didn’t really read up on them first. I just bunged a few corms in here or there, and they ended up looking a little odd, either in the wrong position or a tad lonely, among the other, more well-thought out planting in the borders. The flowers themselves were rather pretty, if a bit too garish in hue. I think two-tone varieties are just too tacky (see the photo below).

Choosing A Variety

I have selected my gladioli more carefully this time, choosing colours that will work well in my borders, and I’ve put more thought into their planting positions.

I’m growing a few varieties this year. One is the Byzantine gladiolusGladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus, which has a well-deserved RHS Award of Garden Merit. Their spikes of funnel-shaped, magenta flowers will reach 90cm, with fans of sword-shaped leaves reaching nearly as high as the flowers. The flowers, which are approx 5cm across, are more delicate and less brassy toned than the cultivated varieties, and remain popular with garden designers. I’ve planted these glads in my new south-facing border, amongst pink roses, stachys officinalis, blue geraniums, lavender and bearded irises. I’ve kept the whole bag’s worth (10 corms) together, weaving them between the other plants, as I think they’ll have more impact that way.

The second variety I’ve chosen is ‘Sweet Dreams’, mainly because they were cheap and cheerful, just £1 for a bag of 10 corms from my local Wilkinsons. These are going to be large-flowered, knock-your-socks-off glads, in deep purple and white. I planted the whole lot in the same area, amongst grasses such as pennisetum and stipas, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out. I’m a bit concerned that the colours will clash with other plants in the border, such as the sanguisorba and knautia, if they flower at the same time, but I can always move them somewhere else if that happens.

The next two varieties are on my wish list: ‘Green Star’ and ‘Purple Flora’. These have stunning velvety, richly-coloured flowers. I especially love the acid green flowers of ‘Green Star’, which will look pleasingly zingy beside the royal purple of the ‘Purple Flora’. I will plant these in two or three week’s time, so that I have a succession of flowers. You can assume that the corms will flower approx 10-12 weeks after planting, so if you stagger the planting, you should have gladioli flowering in your garden all summer.

How To Plant Gladioli

You can start planting gladioli from March-April onwards, as soon as the soil has warmed up. All glads are planted in the same way. Plant the corms 10-16cm deep, and spaced at least 10cm apart. They prefer fertile, well-drained soil, in full sun. A south- or west-facing border is ideal. A pointy trowel is good tool for this job. If you’re gardening on clay, you will want to put a layer of grit or sharp sand beneath the corm. If your soil is poor, add some manure or garden compost. Keep them well watered, especially if your soil tends to dry out, and they should do well. And if you’re so inclined, as soon as the flowers appear and for three weeks after flowering, feed the plants fortnightly with a high-potash feed, like tomato feed or comfrey juice. The flower stems will probably need to be staked for support.

The RHS advise lifting the gladioli when the foliage has died back, discarding the old corms and storing the new corms in a dry frost-free place until planting in the spring. I have no intention of doing this, and feel confident in my gamble that they’ll make it through the winter here in East Anglia. In colder, wetter areas, the RHS advise may be worth taking.

Grow-Along With Me!

So come on possums, and “Wave that glad!” as Dame Edna would say. Please do join in with my annual grow along. You can post pics or comments on my Facebook page about how your gladioli are doing. You can also tag me on Instagram using @smallgardener. I’ll be happy to answer any questions and share my experience as best I can, and there are bound to be some expert gladioli growers out there who can help us too.