GLADIOLUS Sword Lily

Gladiolus is one of the few flowers which need no description, but the differences between the varieties are enormous. The height of the thick flower stalk which rises from the corm may reach little more than 1 ft or as much as 5 ft. The open, trumpet-shaped flowers range from the width of an egg-cup to the size of a saucer, and the colours span the rainbow. The common family features are upright, sword-like leaves and six-petalled flowers which all point the same way.

There are one or two hardy species but these are not the ones you see in every street in the land. These popular ones are the half-hardy hybrids, planted in spring to flower in summer and then lifted at the end of October. The corms are stored in a cool but frost-free place for planting out in the following spring.

These showy plants are easy to grow in good soil and a sunny situation – remember to water thoroughly during dry weather once the flower spikes have appeared. They cannot be faulted as cut flowers but they do have a few drawbacks as bedding plants for garden display – careful staking is sometimes necessary and the blooming period for an individual flower spike lasts for only a fortnight. Still, they do provide a bold splash of colour during those two weeks and the trick is to stagger the planting dates so that a succession of blooms is obtained.

VARIETIES: There are 5 main groups. The most popular one contains the largest plants with the showiest flowers – the Large-flowered Hybrids. These grow 3-4 ft high; space them 6 in. apart. The triangular flowers are 4’/2 -7 in. wide and the list of varieties is enormous. Three well-known ones are ‘Oscar’ (bright red), ‘Peter Pears’ (orange, peach and red) and ‘Flower Song’ (frilled, golden yellow), but there are scores of others. The Primulinus Hybrids grow life-3 ft high; space them 4 in. apart. The top petal of each flower is hooded, and the flowers are loosely arranged on the stem. The average bloom width is 3 in. and good examples are ‘Joyce’ (deep pink and yellow) and ‘Columbine’ (pale pink and white). Staking is not necessary, and it is not often needed for the third group, the Butterfly Hybrids. These grow 2-4 ft high; space them 4 -6 in. apart. The two basic features of most of these hybrids are the close packing of the flowers on the stem and the striking colours of the throats. These features can be clearly seen in such varieties as ‘Melodie’ (pink petals, scarlet throat) and ‘Confetti’ (pink petals, yellow throat). The Miniature Hybrids are like small Primulinus varieties – height 1-214 ft. Spacing 4 in., flower size 2 in., frequently frilled or ruffled. Examples include ‘Bo Peep’ (apricot) and ‘Greenbird’ (sulphur yellow). The final group of Gladioli are the Species-less highly bred than the hybrids and capable of living outdoors all year round. The hardiest is G.byzantinus (2 ft; small red flowers in June) – the most popular are the varieties of G. colvillii (2 ft; small flowers in April-June; protect the crowns with bracken or ashes in winter).

SITE AND SOIL: Any well-drained fertile soil will do – thrives best in full sun.

PLANT DETAILS: Planting time March-May (Hybrids), October (Species). Planting depth 4-5 in.

Spacing: 4-6 in. Height see above.

Flowering period: July-September (Hybrids), April-June (Species).

PROPAGATION: Plant cormlets in April-May. Flowering will take place in about 2 years.

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