Greetings fellow horticulturalists, how are we today? Welcome to my experiment in search engine optimisation, hence the meaningless title of todays post. I awoke very early, this being the day of London's historic and noisy Columbia Road Flower Market. So, unable to get back to sleep, I decided to get up and sow the rest of my Gladioli seed, which I've been putting off due to lack of compost, lack of grit, lack of pots and lack of enthusiasm. But I have now fashioned a suitable growing medium after a delivery of orchid compost (very open but not very barky), black glossy aquarium gravel, sand and a bit of JI3 I was saving for special occasion. So not much nutrient, which is right for most seed composts as the seedlings will only be in there for a few weeks and too much fertiliser can actually "burn" the delicate new roots. Although, as you'll discover, ours are going to be in the same pot and compost for up to two years.
And when you get to this level of enthusiasm, you can't affort to be wasteful: these scarce and hard to collect seeds usually come in packs of just five (seeds, not bags) so the usual etiquette, once the bulb (in the widest sense) seed (singular in many cases, a 20% success rate would be considered quite good if you had had 100) has/have germinated is to leave well alone for two seasons (so a deep pot, 10cm at least, is required), unless your distribution was as bad as mine and you have a traffic jam, or if one plant is particularly vigorous, in which case I would suggest transplanting the seedlings, as soon as they are robust enough to handle, to a bigger pot, using a dibber to make roughly equidistant holes and replant the seedlings at the same depth they had been at before. If in doubt, err on the side of deeper and spray with a fungicide to prevent the buried growth from damping off (that's gardener talk for rotting).
If your problem was a dominant bully, plant him up in a separate, much smaller, pot. There is a phenomenon whereby a single seedling planted in a big pot will sulk for a bit and then just die. I can't remember the science behind this but have passed the practical.
I have already successfully sown and germinated four Gladioli species and quite a few other genera like Moraea and Lachenalia, so while I'm hardly qualified on paper, I do have some green spikes you might want to covet.
My method with the first two batches was slightly different from the new ones: it is said that daily fluctuations in temperature help break the dormancy of Gladioli seed. I don't know whether this is true or an old wives' tale.
As the seed began to arrive at the end of last year, I did what I always do and read too much about winter/rain season flowering types and other very confusing things, especially when you keep in mind that the articles I was reading were written mostly by Americans or, naturally South Africans (their country being the goose that lays almost all these golden eggs (NB, must think of less offensive metaphor) apart from a few confusing magenta species around the Med, and possibly one UK native. So Winter in South Africa and America isn't in the same months as they are in London Town. And some grow in heavy clay, some in inaccessible crevices on mountain sides and some in scrubby grassland.
So I decided to do what I always end up doing: ignored it all and went with my instinct. Compost: a mix of bog standard potting compost, perlite, grit and sand. I left out any fertiliser for the reasons outlined above (god, this reads like a mortgage application). As they grow I can apply a liquid feed every 3 weeks or so during the growing season to build up the bulb, alternating with water to avoid any build-up of chemical salts in the compost.
So my sowing method is the same as I've adopted for almost everything this year: First take your pot, at least 10cm deep because the bulbs need to find their own depth so give them the depth to do it! Then fill to about 1cm from the top, press down gently (add a bit more growing medium if you need to) and give it a tap to flatten the surface but also break up the texture a bit, you don't want it flat and impenetrable (imagine you're an exhausted root). Next, OUT OF THE WIND, open your little drug dealers' packet of flat, papery seeds and tip them on to the compost surface. then, taking the point of your label or pencil or similar distribute them evenly. If you're using a square pot it should look something like the "5" on a die but without any seed less than 1cm from the edge. Finally, take your pick from perlite, vermiculite and very fine grit (check it is pH neutral if you bought it from the pet shop) and cover the seed almost to the top of the pot, that way light can penetrate but the seed is held in place and moisture comes from below, meaning it's not buried in soggy compost (although some species would like this, just don't ask me to remember which!) It also means that when you water you aren't going to disturb the seeds.
At this point I didn't have access to the heated propagator so my first four efforts: Gladioli segetum, watermeyeri, undulatus and hyalinus, had to go into the cold greenhouse, along with a lot of other stuff that was coming from South Africa and beyond, including Lachenalia viridiflora, that amazing turquoise Hyacinth and all the tender perennials from the summer. Slowly, the perennials (mostly utterly replaceable Pelargoniums and Fuchsias) were sacrificed as more and more seed began to overwhelm me ( that's the problem with the Web; previously I'd never have heard of bidorbuy.za, the South African eBay), Secret seeds, chileflora.com and rareplants.de. The most exotic I'd get would be the Chilterns catalogue (still my first stop but to be fair, I doubt if they've ever been to the Andes, never mind brought back a ton of seed and the knowledge to grow it!). And with it all being electronic, your partner doesn't have to know quite howe expensive the contents of that wee jiffy bag were!)
Then I brought the propagator from its hiding place deep in a kitchen cupboard. So in go the Glads, Moraeas, Babianas, Dipcadis etc. And I don't know if it was the stratification but Dipcadi serotinus was the first to give that skipped heartbeat one evening when the torch came out (it's easier to see a tiny tip amongst a load of vermiculite with one, even with the lights on). I couldn't move the propagator out of the shadows or lift the blind to let in enough light for photosynthesis so any plant left there for more than 24 hours was just going to etiolate and die. So I took a gamble and found a use for those six plastic cloches I'd ordered off the internet thinking, "I've no room to store them, never mind use them ... yeah!".
|Gladiolus Cardinalis. I have sown seeds, stored seeds and planted a corm. Whether the corm comes to anything time will tell!|
I've also got a max-min thermometer that records the lowest and highest temperatures (sorry, that was a bit patronising) and it has never been below 6C at night in the cloches . I know it was the mildest February in 30 years but that's quite a long way off frosty. So I was able to get a "one in, one out" system going. Each pot would get a few weeks exposure to the elements (not just Glads, anything I'd splashed out on (although quite how I ended up with three packets of Gladiolus cardinalis AND a live corm, I really don't know! I don't even drink so it wasn't drunken late-night plant porn surfing).
As I write, four species have germinated, and they happen to be the first four sown. They didn't have any daily temperature fluctuation other than night and day which, surely, happens everywhere? So I'm unconvinced by that theory but if it works for you, go for it.
G. segetum was first up, to my unbridled delight.
|G.Watermeyeri. I want one! Oh, I've got two? Another where I splashed out on a corm just be sure|
|G. hyalinus. The leaves don't look capable of making enough energy to create that fancy bloom!|
In there now, Glad-wise, are G. guenzii, orchidiflorus, floribundus ssp. floribundus, virescens, vinosomaculatus and venustus.
|The intricate and showy G. orchidiflorus|
|No, it's not the accused in a spook trial, I'm afraid G, Floribundus ssp floribundus is so rare that this pixelated mess is the only image I can find. Give me three years and we'll have something much better!|
|G. virescens. I've just shone a torch around and its still biding its time|
|The beautifully spotted G.vinosomaculatus|
|G.venustus. One of the stars of the genus|
Another species thriving (and I got a lot more than five seeds from chileflora.com, is the erstwhile Freesia laxa, now known as Anomatheca laxa. This delighted me because it means a form known as "Joan Evans" should also ping up and I've fallen in love with her, which is unusual for me and ladies.
|Anomatheca laxa. Thanks to Plant World Seeds for the pic, I gave them a fortune this morning ordering even more seeds I have no room for|
|"Joan Evans", a quite exquisite sport from the above. Oh nature, just when you're at your lowest ebb, such beauty shines a torch. With dodgy batteries|
Also in there at the moment:
|I don't think I'm going to have quite this much space to show off Moraea spathulata, below|