By Jamie Cable
I WAS watching the wonderful Channel 4 TV series All in the
Best Possible Taste, with Grayson Perry, and it struck me that
a study of people's gardens across the class spectrum would be
I suspect that gardens have many parallels with the taste in
clothes and interior design explored by Perry; from the "bling" of
scarlet geraniums, gnomes, and fibreglass meerkats through to
organic credentials and studied dishevelment; and from vintage
ornaments to the understatement, love of tradition, and
(ironically) reduced choices of the upper classes with large
Garden snobbery is rife. You have only to eavesdrop amid the
monoculture that tends to make up the flower show. In efforts to
demonstrate good taste, and (though not stated) superior class, I
have heard whole plant genera dismissed, and certain
colour combinations being sneered at.
Fashions change. As a child, I had great success growing a gaudy
patch of gladioli. By the time I trained as a gardener, gladioli
had a rather vulgar image. Perhaps not helped by an association
with Dame Edna Everage, they were tolerated in a vase, but not
invited into a suburban garden. I felt disloyal not planting these
members of the iris family, which had inspired my early love of
plants. Now, we are seeing a gladioli revival.
They come in a splendid range of colour and colour combinations.
I can unashamedly recommend two shorter-than-average cultivars:
orange/red "Atom", and bright-plum "Gwendolyn", both with white
margins to the petals and the latter sporting elegant purplish
stems. If these are a step too far, then there is "Sancerre", with
simple white blooms.
Gladioli can help punctuate August borders with strong vertical
lines and a dash of tropical exuberance. You can offset any
stiffness, and hide leaf bases by planting be- hind mound-shaped
plants such as a phlox, or Geranium psilostemon.
My early success was less to do with innate green fingers than
the fact that gladioli are easy. Simply plant firm plump corms 20
cm (8 in.) deep, between March and May, in well-drained soil in a
sunny position. Stakes and string may be needed for the taller
varieties. In mild areas, gladioli can survive in the ground over
winter. Flowering is more reliable, however, if the corms are dug
up in October and stored in a cool, frost and rodent-free
I will enjoy the flamboyance of these South African hybrids in
my borders, or, if the summer fails to improve, as cut flowers
indoors. I can reflect on the somewhat circular conclusion to the
three Channel 4 programmes, that "good taste is that which is
approved by the people around you." In my book, this is a good
reason to step outside the tribe in which we feel most comfortable.
So, to expand my horticultural tastes, as well as enjoy the fruits
of my labours, I vow to visit as many different gardens as possible
A good place to start is the National Gardens Scheme's
Yellow Book. What unites all gardeners is a love of
plants, and a desire to care for them well. This should transcend
our garden prejudices.