This section is from the book "Beautiful Gardens - How To Make Them And Maintain Them", by Walter P. Wright. Also available from Amazon: Beautiful Gardens: How To Make And Maintain Them.
The Gladiolus is as grand a flower for late summer and early autumn as the Carnation is for early summer. To grow it is to deeply admire, if not to love it. If it lacks the winsomeness of some of our scented garden favourites, such as the Sweet Pea, it possesses exquisite grace and much beauty of colouring. Beyond question it is a front rank hardy flower, and one that we must have in the home garden. We may grow clumps of it in the mixed border; or, better still, make a small bed for it. In either case its graceful foliage and tall, arching flower stems have a powerful attraction for the cultivator.
The Gladiolus is valuable for cutting, and it has the great merit of opening its beautiful bells successionally in water if cut young. Thus one spike may be an object of beauty in a room for two or three weeks. The stage to cut is when the lowest flowers are opening; every bud will then unfold to the very tip of the spike. Nor does cutting spoil a bed, as if the spikes are taken at the early stage indicated fresh ones will be thrown up, and the beauty of the collection prolonged.
Like every other popular florists' flower, the Gladiolus is constantly cross fertilised, and thus we see an endless stream of novelties. The fair débutantes are expensive in their first year, but scores of beautiful Gladioli can be bought for a few pence each. The old species should not be overlooked by those who have to study economy. Some of these sorts are very valuable in the garden, although the cost of bulbs ("corms," to be exact) is low. Take Brenchleyensis, for example. This is a vigorous Gladiolus that bears magnificent spikes of scarlet flowers, and it is a particularly useful plant where borders have to be furnished quickly, as it can be planted in autumn, and will flower splendidly by the following midsummer. It can be bought for less than a penny a corm. Other cheap and good Gladioli are Blushing Bride, Colvillei, C. alba, delicatissima, floribundus, Ne Plus Ultra, psittacinus, and ramosus. Most of those are early bloomers; and one or two, notably Colvillei alba, are much used for pot culture. They are all graceful in growth, and the colours are pleasing and delicate.
The noble florists' Gladiolus of the September garden is of hybrid origin - that is, it has originated by intercrossing distinct species. The first of these hybrids was distributed by a florist at Ghent (Gand), and hence was called Gand avensis. There is some difference of opinion as to its exact parentage, but the garden lover will probably not worry his head about the matter. Sufficient for him is the fact that in what are called the "Gandavensis hybrids" he has a rich store of beautiful material.
Another section, called Lemoinei, after the originator, resulted from crossing Gandavensis with the species pupureo-auratus. The varieties may generally be known by the blotch at the base of the lower segments. Cross fertilising between Lemoinei varieties and Gandavensis varieties yielded another section, called Nanceianus, owing to their having originated at Nancy, where the great florist Lemoine carries on his work. Gandavensis, united with seedlings of the species Saundersii, gave us yet another section, called Childsii, from their introducer (though not raiser), the American nurseryman Childs. They are bold, effective plants, but the flowers lack refinement.
While there have been - and, indeed, still are - lines of demarcation between the sections, the fact that cross fertilisers are using them indiscriminately to produce new varieties is tending to obliterate the distinctions. The flower lover will not particularly regret this if he gets better garden sorts, though the botanist may.
Most of the Gladioli are hardy, and will live from year to year if treated like the majority of herbaceous plants, but as losses of corms from excessive damp are liable to cause trouble it is wise to lift them each autumn, dry them, store them for the winter in a cool, dry place, and replant them in the spring. While a warm, sandy loam probably suits them better than any other class of soil, they will give splendid results on clay if it is drained and well tilled. Bone flour, at the rate of 2 ounces per square yard, is a very suitable fertiliser. If yard manure is used it should be in a thoroughly decayed state. Stuff from an old Cucumber, Mushroom, or Violet bed is safer than rank manure fresh from stables. Decayed cow manure is also good. The corms may be buried 3 inches deep, and put 18 inches apart. The plants do not need a great deal of attention during the growing season, but the ground should be kept free from weeds, and the flower stems tied to neat stakes in good time.
When the plants are lifted in autumn it will be found that the original corm has died, and that a new one is superimposed upon it. In addition, there may be little cormlets clustering round the base. The old corm may be thrown away, and the cormlets preserved for growing on.