LAST YEAR WE had no gladiolus blooms at all, because of thrips, those barely visible insects that drain the vital juices out, so the flowers never open from the healthy looking buds.
But this year, from the same batch of corms or bulbs that failed last year, we have excellent flowers. The stems are 5 to 6 feet high, normal for the large-flowered gladiolus.
I remember one year I was upset at a large assortment of "miniature" gladiolus, all of which were a bit above waist high. Some of the largest sorts go to 7 feet or so.
The corms were rather cheap ones from a grocery store, from Holland. Last October, after they failed to bloom, I dug the corms, let them sit a couple of weeks to dry, then cleaned them, cutting the old stalks right down to the corm. I just set them in a cardboard box, and since I have no place to store them cool, they spent the winter in the furnace room, the only warm room in the house, though I do not mean to complain.
In March I soaked the corms for three hours to kill thrips.
In a plastic pail I used 1 1/2 tablespoons of Lysol per gallon of water. I took them out after the three hours and set them dry in the air, and a day or so afterwards I planted 6 inches deep outdoors. This was about March 17.
I have never liked gladiolus in the house very much, and consider them poor cut flowers, since of course the bottom flowers wither before the top ones open. The top ones never do open, and even when you cut off the dead ones at the bottom, the stalks look ratty, and give the impression they have been scavenged from a florist's garbage can.
Gladiolus are not, in any case, my favorite flower.
In the garden I admire them, but as everybody knows they flop unless stalked, or supported in some way. Books sometimes say that if you plant them deep, they do not need support. That is nonsense. Man and boy for 50 years I have grown and observed gladiolus, and if they do not flop, then they lean, which is worse.
And yet I do not like stakes much. Once I used stakes that rose 5 or 6 feet above ground, one for each gladiolus, and that was good, because the varieties were huge sorts, and the stakes had three coats of dark green paint. But what a nuisance.
This year I planted the gladiolus in a rectangular band around a bed in which I set tomato cages, those useful but not especially lovely 5-feet high cylinders of steel reinforcing mesh, used to strengthen concrete.
The idea was to get the gladiolus in by mid-March so their foliage and blooms would obscure the cages where the tomatoes (raised from seed but not set outdoors until May 10) were growing.
For two or three weeks from June 20 on, the gladiolus are pretty, and you do not notice the cages. As the gladiolus stalks reach 5 feet, just before the flowers open, I tie the stalks to the wire mesh.
Then when it storms, the stalks do not start falling down or leaning at odd angles.
When they wither, I cut the stalks out, leaving the gladiolus foliage. The tomatoes by this time are growing admirably, and conceal the cages themselves.
Then in October, I shall dig up the corms once more, take down the cages, cut down the tomato vines, and set out pansy plants for the spring.
We have a little iron table and some chairs on a brick pavement under a mapie. I like to sit there and look north to the lily pool, a masonry thing like a giant's foot bath that is raised above the ground.I like to think of its concrete footings 24 inches deep, so that with its 24-inch raised sides I have a 48-inch concrete object, half of it below the earth. This gives me a sense of solidity.
Among the water lilies and their pads there is a good bit of open water, and the gladiolus, perhaps 35 feet from the table, reflect in the pool.
You can tell what is going to reflect in the pool and what is not going to, simply by setting up stakes here and there and observing, I could tell by this method, that a 5-foot flower would reflect nicely in the water, if viewed from where I sit.
In a border west of the pool running back for about 75 feet, there are big stalks of white and yellow trumpet lilies in bloom, only about 18 of them, but some of the stalks have a number of huge trumpets open, and I do not complain.
There are fat clumps of daylilies in bloom, pale yellow and cantaloupes and so on, and a few dahlias, black-purple and lavender, rose pink and yellow. They are not very high yet, but they make little bits of color.
I am quite pleased with the whole thing, though I realize the Shasta daisies did not get transplanted in April, and the chrysanthemum cuttings rooted in April outdoors still have not all been moved to their permanent places.
The place is alive with birds who sing and slugs who do not - it was error to boast that my toads had eaten most of the slugs this year - and my wife's two laps dogs are a far greater nuisance in the garden than the hounds ever were, and less melodious.
Never mind all that, the gardener is by nature easily pleased and, no doubt, rather simple-minded, so that from time to time he quotes God and says (with only normal exaggeration) that it is very good.