Autumn is a time of anticipation as we wait for those bulb catalogues to appear online or drop through the letter box. Just as exciting is the process of deciding what to order from an ever increasing selection, which has greatly increased during recent decades to include many unusual hardy and tender bulbs from around the world. Many of these plants deserve to be better known but are still all too seldom available.
One of these is the lovely South African Gladiolus tristis. Most of us are familiar with the large-flowered hybrid "Gladdies", but the genus Gladiolus actually contains several hundred species found in southern Africa, Europe and Asia, many of which are far more beautiful than the clumsy and top-heavy hybrids.
In South Africa, Gladiolus tristis is sometimes known as the Marsh Afrikaner, but I prefer the more romantic Spanish name - Dama de Noche, or Lady of the Night. In appearance it is a very different plant to the hybrids but is just as easy to grow.
It is a winter growing species which produces several twisting rush like leaves to a height of two feet. Gladiolus tristis produces several flowers per stem from February to April, and what lovely blooms they are! With its large flaring, creamy yellow trumpets it could be mistaken for a lily. These are lightly marked with purple and are powerfully and deliciously scented at night - hence the popular Spanish name.
The corms of Gladiolus tristis should be planted at a depth and distance of 4 inches in October. In the mildest parts of the UK it is worth trying them outside (they can withstand a brief light frost) but their early flowering and perfume makes them ideal for growing in large pots in a cool greenhouse or conservatory, where the containers can be moved around and brought indoors for short periods. Use a free draining compost with plenty of organic matter, feed with a balanced liquid food every few weeks and water throughout the winter without allowing the pots to become waterlogged. Site the pots in a bright and sheltered location.
After the foliage dies down in the late Spring, dry the corms out and store them until ready for planting again. They are easily propagated as they multiply rapidly, both by division of the parent corms and by small offsets.
Inexplicably, this lovely plant is seldom available and when it is, individual corms sometimes retail for several Pounds Sterling each. We currently have good numbers of Gladiolus tristis available at a fraction of this price and throughout September and October we are offering a 20% discount on this and a variety of other bulbs, corms and seeds for Autumn planting.
There´s always room for another plant!
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