Early last spring, when I was haunting garden centres looking for anything encouraging, I happened to find some corms for Abyssinian gladiolus (Acidanthera murielae). These small, frost-tender corms are planted in spring for their scented, late-summer bloom, and they’re coming into flower now.
I planted several corms in two large pots on my front porch. Acidanthera requires consistent moisture, and that’s easier to ensure in a container. They put up strong green spears after a few weeks, and continued upward, making 40-inch (1-m) stands of straight, lance-shaped foliage. The neat, attractive leaves have been an unexpected bonus. Now, flowers are opening at the apex of tall stems, spreading two-inch (5-cm), star-like white blooms with deepest maroon throats that bleed out at their edges. The sweetly scented flowers nod and bounce in the breeze, while the sword-like foliage remains deep green. This is a terrific result from just two small bags of corms, and all I had to do was water the pots.
Abyssinian gladiolus need at least 20 weeks of growing to reach flowering stage, so start the corms as soon as they’re purchased from a garden centre or plant catalogue (veseys.com or gardenimport.com). If you garden in a cold zone with a short growing season, start the corms indoors. Put them outside when night temperatures are above 10°C (50°F), where they’ll receive at least two hours of sun (that’s what they had on my porch this summer). The corms can also be planted five inches deep (12 cm) into the garden after the soil has warmed, where they will make a handsome vertical statement. They prefer consistently moist, well-draining soil, and won’t tolerate periods of drought.
Lift the corms from pots or garden soil after they have finished blooming and the foliage is beginning to brown. Dry the corms for a few days indoors on newspaper, then carefully brush soil off and store in a paper bag with peat moss at 55° to 68°F (13° to 20°C), in a dark, ventilated location. If you notice any little babies clinging to the mother corm’s skirt, those can be left in place to enlarge, or separated and propagated.
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