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The Gladiolus

The Gladiolus

The picture denotes a Gladiolus gandavensis, rather than one of the pretty cottage gladioli, which was originally raised in a Belgian garden. A somewhat tender plant, Hibberd nonetheless believed the gladiolus was “a beauty to be wooed in the pleasant days of the after-summer”.

To grow them well in the Victorian garden required some care. They were not hardy, and should not be left in the garden through the winter. Hibberd stated he had tried to do this many times but, while many roots survived the ordeal, they were rendered useless by the experience. Some Victorian gardening manuals advised planting the roots out in February or March, but Hibberd believed this unwise, for if the spring was wet and cold they could rot in the ground, and their tender green tops were liable to be cut off from the frosts of April and May.

Hibberd advised keeping the corms or roots in sand, in a cool, dry place until the middle of march, then pot them singly into thumb pots, or three-inch pots at the largest. The compost for these pots should consist of equal parts of mellow loam, leaf mould, very rotten hotbed soil, and silver sand. Grit, or broken shards of pot, should be placed in the bottom of the pots for drainage.

The pots should then be packed in a frame, or in a greenhouse, given one watering, and left for a fortnight. By then growth should be poking through, and the pots needed light and air – a suitable space for them now would be a cool greenhouse, or to continue in a well ventilated frame. All keen winds and frosts should be kept at bay.

Once grown on to the point where the roots threatened to break out of the pots, the gladioli could be planted out in an open, sunny but sheltered position in soil that is deep and mellow, and rich in humus – heavy, pasty or lumpy soil would not do at all. Gladioli could also be grown on well in peat.

If the weather was dry then they should be watered every evening for a week.

The gardener should not wait for the leaves to die down completely before lifting the corms (as the leaves could continue green until Christmas), but should lift them when “there comes over the plantation a certain yellowness”.

Gladioli could also be raised from seed. Seed could be planted in shallow pans and placed in a moderate heat. When the grass appears they should be given good air, and then placed outside during the warm to allow them to finish their growing season in the seed pans. The pans should then be placed in a dry spot for the winter. In the month of March following, the soil could be sifted and the corms lifted, which could then be placed in pans and treat them as described above. At the end of May they could be planted into the garden.

Information and image taken from F. Edward Hulme and Shirley Hibberd, Familiar Garden Flowers (Cassell, Peter, Galpin and Co.: London: c. 1890), 5 vols.

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