5 September 1997

Gladdies to make Edna blow a fuse

DAME Edna Everage would have been in her element at Wisley Flower Show, and would have had a hard job keeping her hands off some of the exhibits – namely row upon row of glorious gladdies.

This year the British Gladiolus Society was the guest specialist organisation at the show staged by the Royal Horticultural Society in its 97ha (240-acre) Surrey garden.

Approximately half the grand marquee was occupied by stands displaying a variety of flowers, succulents, shrubs and grasses. The rest was given over to the enthusiasts whose passion for gladioli far outstrips that of the globe-trotting "ordinary Australian housewife".

For Trevor Fawcett of Aylesbury, Bucks, taking top honours with a gladiolus of a strain he had bred himself was the crowning glory to more than 30 years dedication to the species.

Trevors father had been a gladioli fan before him, though not a showman himself. Gladioli had to share his affections with sweet peas.

For the enthusiast, growing gladioli is a 12-month cycle which includes caring for the stored corms out of season, says Trevor who grows 1000 each year. He entered half a dozen classes at Wisley, the BGSs principle event of the year, and scooped several trophies. But his top award-winning bloom was a deep pink one with pale centre, one of a pair which, with a spike of similarly coloured Socialite, won the "group of three non-primulinus class".

"A lot of people dont realise there are so many colours," says Trevor, who points out that colour and cleanliness are among the points that the judges take into account. General shape is another. "You must have so many flowers open so that there is a balance between the flower head and the top that is still unopened. It must be wider at the bottom.

"You can do a lot while it is still growing to get the flowers facing one way," says Trevor but he is up all night before a show adjusting blooms with pieces of cotton wool so that they are at the peak of perfection by 7.30am in time for the judging.

Timing is all important and this summers erratic mix of drought, storms and hot humid sunshine caused much anxiety among the exhibitors.

Greatest obstacles

Weather and thrips are the greatest obstacles to be overcome when producing perfect blooms, says Elaine Turner. She and her husband George of Bitteswell, Leics, took several awards.

Displays are Elaines forte. She was another of the 30 or so people up all night in the chilly marquee working on their exhibits. As a result she won a crystal vase for a display containing 120 blooms of the Mont Blanc and Tendresse varieties, and a special award for her basket display of Hastings, a tan coloured primulinus.

Worldwide Gladiolus made its debut at the show and got off to a spanking start with a BGS trophy for the best trade stand and a silver gilt medal from the RHS as well. This company whose aim is "to make all the glads from throughout the world available to the general public," is a spare time occupation for enthusiasts Tony Hills and Norman Atkinson of Littlehampton, W Sussex (01903-721465 weekends or evenings).

They launched their catalogue at the show offering varieties from Canada, America, Europe and the UK. They have 200 of them under cultivation, growing on cormlets and to sell as corms.

Sunny position

Gladioli are planted in April and May for flowering in August and September. They thrive in most garden soils, explains Norman Atkinson, but do best in a pH of 6.8. They also like an open, sunny position.

"A lot of the Czech varieties are recommended for their intense ruffling," says Tony. These are some of the varieties which appeal to gardeners and flower arrangers more than exhibitors.

Inca Queen, a stunning salmon pink and light yellow variety re-introduced by John Pilbeam, was catching visitors attention as was Kiwi carnival. "I could have sold lorry loads of that," says Tony.

Gladioli originate in South Africa as fairly modest blooms, explains John Pilbeam. Breeders have produced a wealth of more flamboyant ones which are classified by number according to size and colour. The first of the three figures used refers to size, with five sizes from miniature (less than 2.5in across the florets) to giant (more than 5.5in across). The following two figures refer to colour, ranging from 00 (white) to 98 (brown). Colours in between include shades of violet (blue), lavender and black (black red and black rose) with odd numbers indicating that the blooms have conspicuous markings.

Its not only gladioli that travel the world. Gladioli enthusiasts do too with the highlight of the year for many of them being the annual convention of the North American Gladiolus Council. "Nashville, Toronto – weve even been to Gracelands," says Elaine Turner.

And next January they head to Sacramento for "Nine days of fun and glads," as Tony Hills puts it.

Ann Rogers

&#8226 Inquiries: British Gladiolus Society, 11 Lime Grove Ashbourne, Derbys DE6 1HP.

Above: Elaine Turner won a crystal vase for this display of 120 spikes. Below: Tony Hills (left) and Norman Atkinson of Worldwide Gladiolus who received awards from the BGS and RHS.

Elaine Turner arranged this special award winning basket display as well.

Left: Trevor Fawcett with his court of honour spike. Above: A view along a line of entries. Below: A red prize card is paled into significance by the brilliance of the Red Alert florets staged by Brian Rusling.

Left: The Dutch Vase and the Jean Goodswen trophy went to Alan Boycott for the best primulinus spike. Right: The Appledore Shipbuilders Horticultural Society won an award for six spikes from an affiliated society.