Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Consider the sword-lilies

The gladioli are back (ones grown in this country, that is). They are a striking flower to have in the house, especially the reds, which we put in a tall glass vase against a white wall in the kitchen. They also happen to represent excellent value for money.

I asked the local flower stall holder we patronise ('tell me, my good man...') why you get so much for your money when you buy glads. He reckoned it was because they are unfashionable. Still? They seem to have been unfashionable for as long as I have been noticing flowers.

It would be easy to blame their status on Dame Edna, who for decades now has cast armfuls of the things into her audiences, making them her signature flower. And yet the meticulous Barry Humphries must have been drawing on an existing naffness when he chose them.

Even without knowing anything about suburban Melbourne and its floral tastes, a critical, rather puritanical eye might see something flashy about them, a touch of grossness, a primped bourgeioserie. They have a rather stately, self-regarding look, which one might wish to deflate. Perhaps it should have been Gladiolus Bucket rather than Hyacinth?

But, thankfully, we don't have a critical, puritanical eye: a bit of exuberance and colour are always welcome.

Looking up the etymology, it turns out that the word 'gladiolus' references the sword-shaped leaves and presumably the long pointed flower-stem; hence its other name, the sword-lily. So not a bad flower to put in the hands of a formidable old bag who regards her audience as adversaries: a comic gladiator armed with gladioli.

Well, whatever its fashion status, we don't care. After all, they were good enough for Van Gogh (above). And long may they remain unfashionable; long may they remain a bargain.

12 comments:

Barendina Smedley said...

Two quick reflections on glads.

Surely they are mostly out of fashion now preicely because they were so very fashionable during the Edwardian era - the cutting flower par excellence, beloved for their incredible range of colour, their height and visual extravagance - rather high-tech, labour-intensive, heavily hibridised, non-native blooms that showed off the professional gardener's skill as much as the proud house-owner's taste and liberality? Whereas, these days they are neither exotic enough, nor wildflowery enough, to suit either starry or green aesthetic tendencies. No one really does Edwardian planting schemes any more - they look too formal and are too expensive to maintain - whereas contrived architectural things with water-features etc but no plants - or, alternatively, wildflower meadows - are low-maintenance i.e. cheap but can also be passed off as in some sense being ideologically appropriate. It's like your thing for non Farrow & Ball, 'tasteful' colours, Gareth - counter-snobbery of a very high order indeed!

(Personally, I have a thing for massed tulips, but not 'fancy' ones, just ordinary ones, which is similarly off-trend. Economical, though!)

The other obvious point, as any schoolboy could once have told you, and as Barry Humphries probably knows perfectly well, is that gladius is not only the Latin word for a short sword, but also for a penis, so one can see, in the case of the gladiola, why the collision of mildly past-their-sell-by-date social pretensions and ooh-matron quasi-naughtiness works so well.

Barendina Smedley said...

Oh dear, I spelled 'hybrid' wrong. So much for the classical education, eh?

Gaw said...

Barendina: Thank you for adding whole new depths to the subject, both learned and rude! Wonderful thing a classical education - you get to appreciate far more filthy references. (By the way, Barry Humphries really is a clever and meticulous chap, more so than I could guess.)

Richard T said...

Leave gladdies alone. If you wish a vulgar flower you can have the dahlia. Its gaudy, even garish colours, combine with a nasty smell and a propensity to harbour earwigs.

zmkc said...

They are so very unbending though. Almost accusatory.z

zmkc said...

That was a random slip of the finger z, rather than some kind of a signing off best regards sort of a z, by the way

zmkc said...

The gladioli made me nervous. That's probably why Barendina got in a pickle and misspelt hybrid too. Not a forgiving flower at all

worm said...

when I see gladioli, I can only think 'Morrisey'.

Sophie King said...

The original species gladiolus is actually a very attractive plant but I'm the most terrible plant snob and wouldn't countenance growing any of the hybrids - zmkc is right - they are unbending, but not in a good delphinium kind of way. As for the colours, they mostly set my teeth on edge.

Gaw said...

Richard T: Dahlias are vile things. There's no good place for them, anywhere.

z: Sign off with an informal z any time. Anyway, I'd already assumed we were on first letter terms. By the way, gladioli making you nervous... Freud would probably have something to say about that.

worm: I'd forgotten that fact. Now what was he up to I wonder?

Sophie: I'm not sure whether I'd actually grow them myself as I prefer little flowers in the garden (except for roses). Cut though, is a different matter.

As for colours, there's a lovely dark red, which may well be close to something found in the F&B palette so is surely unimpeachable. And I think the cherry red is unobjectionably cheerful. White's good. But I am wary of the others.

Barendina Smedley said...

Far from being unbending, hybrid glads (because Sophie is right - the original ones are a different creature entirely - gracile, small and unshowy) in fact fall over more or less nonstop, at least if left unstaked, because they were developed for cutting, nothing else. Make what you like of that, Freudians.

Gaw said...

I have a top tip. Pinch out the top bud and the blooms will open right to the tip. No sexual innuendo is intended but it's now difficult to avoid it.