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At Last


After many years of trying, it’s happened: I’ve gotten flowers from Gladiolus callianthus ‘Murielae’ (also known as Acidanthera bicolor, Gladiolus murielae, and Abyssinian glad).

I’ve always loved the idea of graceful species glads, and, as my readers may have noticed, I favor plants with fragrance. I’m also a bit of a sucker for white flowers. Another point in their favor: these glads are inexpensive (they have been in cultivation a long time, and are probably easy to propagate), which is a nice change from the species plants I usually covet.

The problem in the past has been lack of sun; the leaves have always come up in nice thin spears (a bit thinner than hybrid glads), but nary a bloom. This year, some trees were cut, there was more sun available: I gave them another try. And, while most of them still show no signs of blooming, I’m out-of-proportion grateful for the ones that did.

Niels Ploughman, at Roses in Gardens, kept my hope alive. He emailed me the info that, in his Danish garden, they don’t flower until October. When I read up on them, I discovered the reason for the long season: they originally hail from tropical Africa. Sierra Leone is their westernmost reach, and they (and their close relatives) stretch as far east as Ethiopia (which is probably what gave them the name “Abyssinian glads”).

I thought that in Northern California they might come on a bit earlier, but as September and October both passed with leaves bare of buds, I began to feel I was just cursed: I’d been trying to get Gladiolus callianthus ‘Murielae’ to bloom for years, and they just never did.

In November, I was walking by them with my mind on something else and suddenly I noticed: there was something white. It was a bloom. I put my nose to it, and got a whiff that reminded me of gardenia or jasmine, only lighter. Finally, I was smelling a Gladiolus callianthus ‘Murielae’ (or whatever it’s called)  in my garden.

Out on my front porch, belatedly cutting down dead things, I had another revelation: ‘Freckles’ clematis, finally blooming.


Just as Tony Avent says in the Plant Delights catalogue, it kind of went quiet through most of the summer. Not dormant, exactly; it leafed out in April, and the leaves stayed on. It just didn’t do anything. Didn’t grow, didn’t flower: just stayed.

In late September or early October, I noticed the vines were starting to work their way up the doorway trellis. Good, I thought, at least I didn’t kill them, and they’re getting in some growth for next year. While Avent says that they don’t flower until October, mine, continuing the late-arrival trend, have just started in mid-November.* (For those of you who read my last post: no, I haven’t been brainwashed by Tony Avent (if you’re a gardener, wouldn’t you want it to be brain-dirtied?), and I don’t plant to take him on as my guru. He does provide really good information, though, and he makes me laugh.)

The flowers swing freely in breezes, as I can attest from photographing this one, and are fragrant in a way that reminds me of orange blossoms, only  a little softer, and with a hint of freshness that might almost be lemon. (The scent is pronounced in the mornings, but seems to fade out by evening.) I have inhaled other fragrant clematis (clematises?), but I had no idea a clematis could smell like this. I’m not sure if I knew it was fragrant when I got it, but now I feel it was a doubly good choice for my front-door arch: fall-flowering and fragrant.

I didn’t know ‘Freckles’ was from the Balearic islands until I read Avent,  but that’s another sign that it was meant to be: in my late teens, I spent several magical weeks in the Beleares, wandering around gathering wild rosemary (some of it grew over my head; some of it was scrubby and knee-high) near a crumbling Roman tower, walking the dirt roads with other foreigners, and drinking plenty of very cheap Spanish wine and that local liquor called yerbias, deep green from the herbs that were steeped in it.

These are only a few flowers, but they still give me the bubbling-up sensation of bringing an old memory into a new world, of realizing a dream: that intoxication all gardeners long for.

“A thrill that I have never known…for you are mine at last.”

*This clematis flowered in amazingly cold weather in winter, too.


Plant Delight catalogue 2008

Brent and Becky’s Summer Bulb catalogue 2008

Niels Ploughman at Roses in Gardens (he has been on sabbatical lately, but there is a huge stockpile of information-packed posts and luscious photos awaiting you there).

Peter Goldblatt, Gladiolus in Tropical Africa, Timber Press, 1996

“At Last” by Jack Keller and Jay Booker,  from  Gene Watson’s site

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Sylvia (England) November 19, 2008, 4:50 am

    Pomona, I have Gladiolus callianthus but I don’t think it has flowered this year, I must go and investigate – it has got rather overgrown with other plants – but I think flowered in September in other years. Clematis ‘Freckles’ is on my wish list, I did order it this year but the nursery had sold out, better luck next time.

    I have a very unexpected oriental poppy flowering, white and black with white cyclamen – what a duo – unlikely to be ever seen again. I took my camera out this morning for a quick picture – it will be dark when I get home from work.

    Best wishes Sylvia(England)

  • Pomona Belvedere November 20, 2008, 1:41 pm

    Wow, the white-and-black Oriental poppy (that’s one on my wish list) and the white cyclamen–beautiful and unusual. Are you having a long warm fall, and your poppy got fooled into thinking it’s spring? It’s happening with a few plants around here.

  • Kathleen December 3, 2008, 7:23 am

    Wow on that ‘Freckles’ Clematis!!! It’s gorgeous. Now I’m adding another thing to my wish list. It was worth the wait for the bloom, wasn’t it?

  • Pomona Belvedere December 3, 2008, 3:10 pm

    It really was worth waiting for the bloom, and I have three furry hanging buds that I hope will make it open before the weather chills them out. I can’t wait to see what they do next year, when they’re established.

    Also, you may be happy to know that ‘Freckles’ is an easy-care plant (the only kind that survives for long in my garden), requiring no special attention–just moderate amounts of water and fertilizing whenever I do the rest of the garden.

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