Until a few years ago, glads definitely wouldn’t have appeared on my list of top 10 (or 50, or even 100) plants. If I thought of them at all, I pictured rows of long-stemmed, huge-flowered spikes leaning at precarious angles, with color that lasted all of about two days. I do like the look of them in arrangements, but for garden interest? Forget it. Well, have you ever heard the saying “Never name the well at which you will not drink”? As soon as I say I don’t like a particular plant, it seems I’m invariably required to admit I was wrong. There’s simply nothing like a garden to keep one humble.
The first glad that snuck into my garden was Gladiolus tristis, acquired from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. I’d heard such great things about its fragrance that I figured it was worth trying. Plus, it was a species, and not one of those appallingly gaudy hybrids, so why not? I was happy I gave it a try, because the pale yellow flowers were very pretty. I never did notice much fragrance from it, though, even at night, and its 30-inch stems tended to be a bit sprawling, so I didn’t bother digging it up at the end of the year. Surprisingly, it returned for two years after that, despite being commonly rated for Zone 7b and south. (I figure were are—or at least were—mid-Zone 6 here, though the new map at the Arbor Day Foundation calls us Zone 6/7.) I was sorry that it didn’t come back this spring (I suspect I dug into the corms by accident when renovating that area), so it’s on my list to order again next spring.
Once I started down the slippery slope of growing a species glad, could those gaudy hybrids be far behind? Apparently not. I ended up with a half-dozen cultivars left over from a project article about growing summer bulbs in pots, so I planted them out in various parts of the garden. I really have to give ‘Far West’ here the nod for being one of the most over-the-top flowers I’ve ever grown. Luckily, this pairing of hot pink-to-magenta and yellow bloomed in front of a mass of not-yet-flowering tall asters, with no other colors close by. I appreciate the challenge of creating combinations with bright colors, but honestly, I was hard pressed to find anything else that might look good with this one, except maybe deep purple foliage and flowers. Still, it was so unabashedly flamboyant that I enjoyed having it around. And despite having quite large blooms, the tall stems (to about 6 feet) were surprisingly sturdy, so they didn’t need staking. The spiky foliage looked great both before and after flowering, which was an added bonus—and enough to push this one into the must-dig-up-this-fall category. You can find this one for sale in the summer-bulbs catalogs of several growers, including Van Bourgondien.
Then there’s one of this year’s new top favorites for me: the 2-foot-tall beauty I acquired from Brent and Becky’s under the name ‘Flevo Party’. In their catalog, it’s described and shown as “deep crimson red,” but I’d call it more of a rich violet color, which was perfectly complemented by the good-looking, grayish green leaves. The flowers and foliage were just at the right scale for each other, and the stems were sturdy enough not to need staking. I ended up getting about three weeks of bloom from just four corms, which is far longer than any others lasted. This one is also on my must-save list—as well as on my must-buy-more list!