Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener 23: 376 (November 14, 1872)

Rev. H. H. Dombrain

So many and such able correspondents have written upon the culture of the Gladiolus that it may seem there is nothing more to be said on the subject; but as I have now grown it probably as long as any amateur in the kingdom, and have tried it on various soils, besides having seen the gardens of other growers, I may perhaps be enabled to add something to the general fund of information that has been brought forward.

When (now a good many years ago) the Gladiolus came prominently into notice through the efforts of Mr. Standish, then of Bagshot, who with his usual zeal was engaged in hybridising it, it was considered that it could not be grown in too poor a soil, and the advice was given that if the soil was not poor enough it had better be charred or burnt to make it so; but experience proved this to be unsound, and a rich soil is now considered by no means unsuitable—indeed, I believe the Gladiolus may be successfully grown in any soil. Certainly a stiff tenacious loam does not suit it, but there are means of making this lighter; and although it would involve a greater amount of labour, yet no lover of the flower would grudge this to overcome any difficulties in the way of growing it. The soil which M. Souchet declares best suited for it is that which is commonly known as a good market garden soil, neither too stiff nor too light. Mr. Youell, of Great Yarmouth, used to exhibit some splendid specimens of Gladiolus brenchleyensis which were grown in a soil somewhat similar to the Dutch bulb gardens about Haarlem—rich friable soil at top and cool underneath; and such a soil, where springs were not far off, would seem to be the most congenial for it. After all it is not very particular, and provided that it is not grown in the same place year after year, and does not come into contact with fresh manure, no soil seems unsuitable to it. Lord Hawke, who so successfully exhibited this year, made his beds with slush from the bed of the Trent, which he had carted at considerable expense, and nothing could have been finer than some of his flowers; and as it is an Iridaceous plant I can imagine it growing well in such a soil.

It is desirable that the beds be in a sheltered, not shaded position, for owing to the character of its growth it affords a good hold to the wind, and unless the spikes are secured they will suffer considerably from it. I make my beds about 4 feet wide, so that it is easy to get at any of the plants, and I plant four rows in a bed. It is generally recommended to plant a foot apart in the rows, and where space is no consideration it may be done, but I do not see the necessity for so doing. The roots do not spread, and hence 8 inches apart would, I think, be ample. M. Souchet plants his even closer than this, and I have seen as fine blooms with him as have ever come under my notice; finer I cannot say, because I think nothing can surpass the flowers that have been exhibited at our metropolitan shows the last two years.

There are two ways of preparing the beds, both of which I have adopted, and I cannot say that I have perceived any difference in the results, while one is attended with more trouble than the other. One plan is to excavate the beds to the depth of 9 or 10 inches, place a layer of well-rotted cow dung about 4 inches thick at the bottom, and then return the mould; and as the bulbs are planted at about 4 inches deep, there will then be 4 inches between the base of the bulbs and the manure. The other plan is to place some well-rotted manure on the bed and then dig-in deeply, or, indeed, as some do, to trench the beds. November is about the best time for this operation. They can then have the benefit of the winter frost; and, indeed, during severe weather it is better to turn up the surface roughly, so as to give them all the benefit of its sweetening power.

The time for planting will vary according to the situation. There is at least a fortnight's difference in the period of blooming between the north and south of England, and about ten days between the south of England and Paris. At Fontainebleau from the 5th to the 15th of August is the length of the blooming; with us from the 15th to the 30th, and in the north of England from the 25th of August to the 7th of September, as far as I can judge. I generally plant between the 2nd of March and the 10th of April according to the character of the weather, being never in a hurry to plant before the first-named day, and ready to seize any fine weather after it. It is very undesirable with it, as with any bulb or plant, to place it in the ground when the soil is "stodgy."

In planting, I take out with a good deep trowel the soil to the depth of 6 or 7 inches, and make a hole about 5 inches across; this I fill with a mixture of sand, powdered charcoal, and light soil in about equal proportions, so that the bulb, when it begins to start and throw out its rootlets, has a light and dry material into which to penetrate, and thus is likely to be saved from rotting. When I have one row finished I cover up and commence the second, placing a label to each sort, and writing the beds in my garden book, so that if the label go wrong I am not at a loss, while the presence of the label enables me to tell the sort without having to refer to my book.

The nature of the plant necessitates in dry weather a great amount of watering, and happy. are they who have good soft water. Here mine comes from the chalk, and so impregnated is the water with it, that my kitchen boiler, which I had cleaned out the other day, had in it a deposit of lime in some parts more than an inch thick. I believe this to be injurious to the bulbs. Certainly this year, when I had but little watering to do, they have been better than during the dry seasons we have had, and when I had to water I had plenty of rain water to go to. My paper warns me that I must stop, and hope to continue next week and to enter on the vexata quaestio of the disease.—D., Deal.