Gladiolus Get Their Groove Back
Flowers seem to wax and wane in popularity. Right now, people are crazy for dahlias and ranunculus. One flower that’s been out of favor for ages is the gladiolus. I get it. There’s nothing subtle about these summer-blooming bulbs and it’s easy for their stiff, upright form to appear awkward in the garden and well as in a vase.
But gladiolas are so much cooler than most people think they are. First off, glads are seriously beautiful flowers with stunning, orchid-like blooms. They are available in a rainbow of single colors, bi-colors and even tri-colors. The bulbs are inexpensive and readily available, and growing them is practically foolproof. Glads also flower from late summer through fall, when every garden needs a hit of color.
Meeting a Fellow Gladiolus Lover
I began growing glads about 10 years ago and have been singing their praises ever since. It’s not often that I meet someone who shares my affection for these old-fashioned, summer-blooming bulbs. But recently, I discovered that Danielle Keeton from Northlawn Flower Farm is even more passionate about glads than I am.
Danielle is a flower farmer and floral designer (as well as a master gardener). She lives in central PA and uses her 1/2 acre backyard as a flower farm, selling bouquets from a roadside stand at the end of the driveway, and doing floral design for local events. Danielle has a wealth of practical knowledge about growing cut flowers, and the videos that she shares on her YouTube channel are both inspiring and informative.
Danielle and I hopped on the phone last month to talk about all things glads.
A Flower in Need a PR Overhaul
I started by asking Danielle about her connection to glads. “I’m an old soul,” she said. “I like Doris Day movies, 1950s Chevy convertibles, teal kitchen appliances, and glads. Yes, you heard that right. I REALLY like glads. My grandma was like a second mother to me, and she was an avid flower gardener, master gardener, garden club president and flower show judge. She loved gladiolus and always used them in interesting ways.”
“My grandmother never met a flower that she could not make useful or beautiful. I remember on more than one occasion, quickly veering off to the side of the road to pick handfuls of Queen Anne’s lace to dye purple, pink and yellow for her latest floral creation. To her, every flower was beautiful; sometimes you just had to do a bit of alteration.”
“That’s the thing about glads. I love them and just feel they need some alteration to make them work in different designs. Each year I grow and sell hundreds of stems of these easy care flowers. They are breathtaking, elegant and adaptable. To me, they look like a beautiful spray of orchids, each taking their turn to open up on the stem.
Old Friends with an Irresistible Charm
“When I first started selling cut flowers six years ago, I was amazed to see that people couldn’t resist buying gladiolas. I’m not sure if the flower was nostalgic for them, if they liked the newer colors, or if they just needed that handful of instant beauty and joy smiling back at them. But one thing is for sure, they sold! And they sold fast!
It may be surprising, but I grow and sell far more glads than dahlias. They are so easy to grow. Just plant them after all danger of frost has passed, give them full sun and well-draining soil, and walk away. How many flowers can you say that about? Not many in my experience. Want an added bonus? Sow a few dozen every two weeks, and you’ll have continuous blooms right through the fall.
“It’s my opinion that the gladiola can appear stiff and dated because people equate them with delivery service flowers that lack movement, intrigue or artistry. This needn’t be the case. Gladiolas don’t have to be fanned out in a big funeral arrangement or stuck in a bucket like 4-foot swords. The glad is a flower that’s telling us to get creative. Alter me! Use me! See all the things I can do!”
Getting Creative with Glads
Danielle went on to tell me about five different effects that she can get with a gladiolus spike:
- Wire them. “Remove individual flowers and put a hairpin wire through the middle as you would through a strawflower. A single wired gladiola bloom is breathtaking in a wedding bouquet, boutonniere or hairpiece. Want to change the look even more? Wire on foliage from a different flower. People will be asking what flower that is and will certainly be surprised when you tell them it’s a gladiola.”
- Float them. “Pluck off individual flowers and float them in water with some floating candles. Instantly, you have a romantic centerpiece that costs less than a cup of coffee.”
- Shorten them. “Cut off the top of the gladiola spike, leaving only two or three flowers. This gives you a shorter, more workable stem without the ‘sword’ feel.”
- Tube them. “Put one or more florets into a water tube. Add foliage from other plants such as roses or even boxwood and wire them all together. Use them with abandon in a compote or urn arrangement.”
- Embrace their full, ginormous glory! “Perhaps, a bunch of glads in bright colors paired with blazing star, lilies and leather leaf will look dated. Instead, put a large bunch of soft lavender glads in an antique vase and you’ll have a statement piece that people will be asking about!”
Inspiring New Color and Flower Forms
Danielle and I also talked about some of the new gladiolus flower styles and colors that are starting to become available. “I just love all the cultivars with ruffled petals, and there are lots of wonderful new colors, including bicolors and tricolors. I tend to avoid the bright and hot colors and grow more muted and moody hues. Instead of a bright red, grow a deep wine. Replace a loud orange, with a soft and subtle peach. Instead of hot yellow, choose a mellow, buttery cream.
“I think people want more sophisticated colors that they can work into modern designs. People don’t want their flowers to scream. They want them to gracefully smile back at them as they walk by. It’s really all about color. By selecting a more elegant color palette to grow, I can help my customers fall in love with gladiolas.”
To Grow Gladiolus is To Love Them
Danielle wrapped up our conversation this way: “It’s time we gave the gladiolus a second chance,” she said. “What other flower is so easy to grow, quick to bloom, can be succession planted all growing season, comes in almost every color under the sun, and gives us so many uses from every stem? The gladiola has always been there for us. We just need to give her a new look. The gardeners who came before us knew a thing or two. If my grandma grew, loved and arranged gladiolas, then they certainly have a place in my garden, and in one of her antique vases at my table.”
If you have yet to come under the gladiolus’ spell and still need some convincing, check out the creative ways that glads are being used by two floral designers who are active on Instagram: Kiana Underwood and Antonio Valente.
Hopefully you’ll give glads a try this summer. Plant the corms anytime from May through June, and you’ll have flowers blooming just 90 days later. We offer a nice selection of glads for spring planting, which you can see HERE. To learn more about growing glads, you may want to read All About Gladiolus. Also, be sure to check out Danielle’s videos about planting and harvesting glads.