Gladiolus – those brash, showy, top-heavy spikes of flowers, often seen at flower shows but rarely in gardens these days. Well yes, there are those, but there also the specie gladioli, smaller, more subtle, and sometimes hardy enough to be left in the ground over winter.
Growing from corms, gladioli are found in Asia, Mediterranean Europe, South Africa, and tropical Africa. Some. such as the magenta G. communis ssp byzantinus, have even escaped into the wild from British gardens
But much more subtle in its coluring is the South African species, G. tristis
It grows in damper areas in its native environment making it more tolerant of British weather conditions than many of its cousins, but enjoys drier conditions here, the combination of cold and wet of our winters causing the corms to rot. It is wintergreen, growing from late autumn onwards and flowering in late spring. During the summer, it is dormant and this is when the plant needs to be kept relatively dry. Flower stems can be up to five feet in height, although three feet is more usual. The blooms are also scented although this is only noticeable in the evening.
I planted a few corms of G. tristis almost ten years ago in a south-facing position under a hibiscus. Here they have thrived and increased, giving a better display year on year.
Tristis is the Latin for sad, presumably because of the doleful colour of the flowers. But these gladden my heart as I know we are well into spring and summer is just around the corner.