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Gardening: Glad to be classy

26 July 2012


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 intriguing.

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 estates.

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 place.

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 in future.

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.



Fri 20 May @ 02:55
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