Sunday, July 29, 2012


Weather: Rain Thursday night; 14:02 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Tree of heaven, hybrid perpetual roses, buddleia, bird of Paradise, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, red yucca, rose of Sharon, hibiscus, datura, sweet pea, alfalfa, Russian sage, purple garden phlox, single sunflowers, yellow flowered yarrow, zinnias, Shasta daisies; corn tasseling.

Beyond the walls and fences: Leatherleaf globemallow, bush morning glory, white and pink bindweeds, white sweet and white prairie clovers, silver leaf nightshade, buffalo gourd, knotted spurge, prostrate knotweed, goat’s head, pale blue trumpets, Hopi tea, gum weed, plain’s paper flower, goat’s beard, horseweed, wild lettuce, golden hairy asters, native dandelion, goldenrod; summer grasses coming into bloom.

In my yard, looking east: Bouncing Bess, Jupiter’s beard, hollyhock, winecup mallow, sidalcea Party Girl, large-leaf soapwort, California and Shirley poppies, Saint John’s wort peaked.

Looking south: Rugosa, floribunda and miniature roses, Dutch clover, Illinois bundle flower, scarlet flax, Sensation cosmos.

Looking west: Caryopteris, Siberian and Seven Hills Giant catmints, calamintha, leadplant, Goodness Grows speedwell, David phlox, white spurge, perennial four o’clock, sea lavender, Mönch asters, purple coneflowers.

Looking north: Hartweig evening primrose, nasturtium, chocolate flower, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis, black-eyed Susan, Mexican hat, chrysanthemum, yellow cosmos, bachelor buttons.

Bedding plants: Petunia, nicotiana, snapdragons, sweet alyssum.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbirds, small brown birds, geckos, butterflies, hummingbird moth, bees, hornets, harvester and small black ants.

Fruit still on sour cherry and sand cherry.

Weekly update: Glads were no longer exotic flowers when I was in 4-H in Michigan in the 1950's. They were a crop.

Received wisdom was still that after the first fall frost you needed to “start digging up plants, cut off the foliage, about 1/4 to 3/4 inches above the corm, allowing the corms to dry somewhat” and store them indoors at temperatures “just above freezing” because the South African derived hybrids were so tender they “must never be exposed to freezing temperatures.”

The key word is exposed. In 1934 Liberty Hyde Bailey noted that undisturbed “corms often persist, even in northern states if well protected with ground covering” while the author of the "Gladiola" article in E. L. D. Seymour’s Encyclopedia reported research from 1937 by the Missouri Botanical Garden that plants could survive if the corms were “planted at least six inches deep and protected.” The author eschewed responsibility for the heresy by adding “This is a question that growers can well investigate for themselves.”

Lifting the molting brown corms fit the then pervading idea in the 1950's that one didn’t spend time in one’s outdoor room, but had a cutting garden to grow flowers to bring indoors. Such gardens were often sections of existing vegetable gardens where seeds were planted in furrows and cultivated at the same time.

I had problems my first years in 4-H finding something to send to the county fair because my space in my mother’s herbaceous border didn’t produce exhibition sized flowers. But there came a time when we were supposed to show flower arrangements, rather than flowers, and the fine print allowed you to purchase the flowers.

Gladiolas are the simplest plant to arrange. You need no skill or imagination to take an odd number of stalks, cut them in decreasing lengths, and stick them in a nest of upright pins. The stalks don’t need wiring because they’re naturally stiff and often have interesting forms. The flowers in their various stages of opening provide the required anchoring base and diminishing upright line. All you need do is add a few leaves from some other plant at the bottom to emphasize the focal point.

The one thing you do need, though, is glads. My mother would bundle me into the car and drive around country roads looking for men with large cutting gardens or fields of flowers willing to sell us the necessary flowers.

All that time, I was suspicious of anything that required digging and replanting. When I moved here, I saw people growing gladiolas, and gave them a try, with little success. The first thing I learned was that you couldn’t use the corms sold in the local stores which had died from poor storage.

The second thing I learned is that while gladiolas may have been the “most popular annual-growing plant” in 1943, they no longer were widely available in nursery catalogs. Bulb catalogs focus on species planted in the fall, like tulips and daffodils. Gladiolas not only are planted in the spring, but are an American innovation outside the distribution of the Dutch bulb importers for spring sales.

The third thing I learned, through trial and error, is that I had much better luck with the smaller flowered varieties than the large exhibition ones. However, they were even harder to find in mail order sources.

The fourth thing I learned is that even those varieties that would grow here weren’t all that successful. Gophers attacked them in 2000 and grasshoppers would occasionally go after the leaves. I haven’t seen many growing in the area since 1999 and I planted my last corms in 2005. The next year one stalk emerged that produced a small yellow flower with reddish blotches in late June.

They were planted along the back porch where roses now grow in water that drips from the roof. In last year’s drought, there was no moisture to condense from the air to maintain them. I put down a soaker hose to help the roses survive.

The middle of July I saw something that looked like gladiola leaves within the canes of a hybrid tea rose that had died back to the Doctor Huey root stock. I couldn’t be sure, since it never bloomed, but once you’ve handled gladiola leaves you recognize the long narrow, light green blades that are flexible enough to curve slightly. They may be members of the iris family, and compared to iris, but you never confuse the two.

This year I noticed the leaves on June 7 and discovered a stalk was flowering last week. It was probably the same bi-color that had appeared six years ago.

I say probably, because it wasn’t the exact same root. Each year, gladiolas produce new corms above the existing ones that flowered, as well as two smaller ones in the roots. Albert Wilkinson tells you to replant the top corm to produce flowering stalks, and, if you’re interested, to plant the smaller ones for two seasons to “work up a stock of a variety.”

However, Jo Ann Gardner was told, the process of renewal introduces genetic changes, so that the fancy hybrids tend to change “form or color over many years of propagation” and heirloom varieties disappear.

So what do I have growing? A gladiolas for sure, and most likely the offspring of a butterfly type. But it may or not be exactly what I planted or what I saw in 2006. It is what could survive on its own in an area protected in winter by cheat grass without uplift.

Bailey, Liberty Hyde and Ethel Zoe Bailey. Hortus, 1934.

Gardner, Jo Ann. The Heirloom Garden, 1992; she got her information from Grant Wilson of the Canadian Gladiolas Society.

Seymour, E. L. D. The New Garden Encyclopedia, 1946 edition; source of the third quotation.

Wilkinson, Albert E. The Flower Encyclopedia and Gardener’s Guide, 1943; source of the first, second and fourth unattributed quotations.

1. Gladiola flower, 22 July 2012.

2. Gladiola stalk, the same day.

3. Gladiola leaves growing with a Doctor Huey rose, 7 July 2012.

4. Gladiola buds, 22 July 2012, which make flower arranging easy.

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