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March 20, 2011

How to Grow Gladiolus Callianthus or Acidanthera – Beautiful Scent Beautiful Flowers

by Val Reynolds

Last summer we were delighted and surprised with the beautiful scent and beautiful flowers of the gladiolus callianthus, now more usually referred to as acidanthera. Also known as Abyssinian gladiola and sword lily, acidanthera, pronounced ass-ih-dan-ther-ah, plants are tender and grown from corms.

We planted ours in April in a pot. If you want to plant Acidanthera in the ground choose a site that gets the afternoon sun and near a path, that way you will notice the scent as you pass.

Hoverfly drinking Gladiolus Callianthus nectar

Hoverfly drinking Gladiolus Callianthus nectar

Hoverfly resting on Gladiolus Callianthus

Hoverfly resting on Gladiolus Callianthus

When ours flowered in mid July we brought the pot into the conservatory out of the wind and strong rain. Each long leafed plant produced about ten white flowers, each with a beautiful scent that filled the room. They attracted innumerable hoverflies who fought for a place on the long perfumed stamens. Once there they were very reluctant to move and other hoverflies darted and hovered waiting for their turn, or not, when there was an amusing dogfight to watch.

The swordlike leaves are about 24 inches tall with blossoms that filled the conservatory with a beautiful scent.

Growing these bulbs really didn’t take much effort, we put 6 corms to a depth of about 5 inches in a clay pot in a soilless compost for the conservatory. The plants are low maintenance, to produce the most flowers the plants do appreciate a regular feed.

Next year we’ll put some in pots for the conservatory and others in the front garden in pots but plunged in the soil. They will need support of some kind, we’ll probably use some unobtrusive metal rings you can buy from any garden centre or even B&Q. The pots will be easy to remove once the flowers have gone over and later when the leaves have died away the bulbs can be dried and stored in a paper bag in a cool but not frosty place during the winter with a note in the diary to get them out and planted by latest mid April*. I have read some gardeners successfully leave the bulbs in the pot kept in a frost free greenhouse, bringing the pot out once the danger of frost has passed.

These plants originate from East African mountains, between 4,000-8,000 ft, mainly found in grassy areas and amongst rocks, which perhaps give them the protection from frost they need.

The gladiolus callianthus bulbs, generally available in the spring, were supplied by Avon Bulbs, Avon Bulbs Ltd, Burnt House Farm, Mid Lambrook, South Petherton, Somerset, TA13 5HE, Tel: (01460) 242177

*By the way, we completely forgot to lift and store them last autumn  … luckily Avon Bulbs still have some of sale so we’ll plant some more in April.

March 2015  Just been to Aldi where they are selling packets of 30 bulbs for 99p – what a bargain! Was so excited I bought 3 packs … can’t wait for the summer and their heavenly scent. I have to say everything I have bought in the plant and seed sections has always gone well for me, from olive trees to lavender bushes, from wild flower mixtures to bonsai plants. Would love to hear if that has been your experience.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

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