March 29, 2009

Unusual Winter Blooming Gladiolus Species

Ahhhh...The Scent of Gladiolus tristus. For those of you lucky enough to have a cold greenhouse, the species Gladiolus offer some incredible scents and colors that rarely are seen in the garden. These South African natives often require the same conditions that many SA bulbs need, mainly a dry dormancy, and a wet growing season. G. tristus has a strong following, albeit secretly, amongst plant enthusiasts. Old gardening books often romance it's fragrance in ways like this " A pot of Gladiolus tristus when brought indoors from the conservatory, will emit it's haunting fragrance when evening arrives" or " Stepping into a glass house at night, during a blizzard, the scent of the Gladiolus tristis attacks ones senses with the subtlety of a Department Store fragrance clerk armed with atomizer and samples". OR better yet, 'Gladiolus tristus, when brought into the home on a Friday evening after work, and placed in the plant window above ones kitchen sink, instantly transforms the scent of the space, from 'Friday at the fish-fry', into "Friday at the Abercrombie and Fitch mall store."
Gladiolus tristis is a bit strong, but oh, so nice. I had trouble finding bulbs for the past two years, looking for them in various catalogs during the summer, for fall planting, but last year, I found some at Telos Rare Bulbs, and purchased 6. One bloomed in October, and was salmon colored, and clearly another ( perhaps rarer) species. Now, the balance of the bulbs are blooming in the same pot, and they are indeed, tristis. So I shall need to remove said bulbs, and repot this spring. The best discover is that many of the species glads are available for spring planting, for late summer or autumn blooms. So if you want to enjoy this scent, which is rather lovely and not cloyingly acidic as the fragrance of an A&F store, do plant many, 24 or more, in a nice deeply planted clump in your garden. Just be certain to dig them up when frost arrives, and store in a cool, dry place until spring ( unless you live in zone 8 or higher, of course!). I plan on ordering 96, for one, massively fragrant clump. Now, I wish I lived in San Fran.

A pot of Gladiolus tristis brought outside with some early blooming greenhouse bulbs.

The Velthiemia bracteata are beginning to bloom ( see the yellow flame var. in the upper right hand corner). Their size is different each year, I guess is is a combination of light quality, temperature and water. This year, the greenhouse was very cold, it even froze a couple of times, and the sun was brighter in the front of the house, so these plants received more bright light than usual. I like the shorter habit.

Don't believe what they all tell you! Most South African bulbs look pretty crappy by the time they bloom. This Babiana looks like all of my Babiana, starting to yellow and brown, and then sending up buds. Dang ungroomed baboons, ( Babiana are named after Baboons, who dig and eat thier bulbs in Africa).
This was glass cleaning weekend, at least Saturday was. I was only able to wash the inside and outside of 7 rows. These panes were green with algae, but now the sun is strong enough to burn the foliage ( see the cyclamen) so the shade cloth is going up this week.


  1. Matt, I love living vicariously through your blog!! GLen

  2. I really like that Gladiolus, must look that up.


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