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Poppies go back as far as 5,000 B.C. in the Tigris and Euphrates river region in modern day Iraq. The ancient Greeks associated them with Demeter, the goddess of fertility and agriculture and considered the presence of poppies around a field of grain crops a sign of the goddess’ blessing. The Breadseed poppy (shown left) – or Papaver somniferum – comes in an array of colors ranging from deep red to pink and lavender. Freeuse photo

Growth in gardening: August birth flowers

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Just like every month has a birthstone, it also has a flower – sometimes two – associated with it. And like birthstones, each month’s birth flower comes with its own unique significance. It seems only natural that we honor the last full month of summer with two incredibly vibrant flowers, the gladiolus and the poppy. Both are colorful and perfect for this time of year.

The gladiolus is a beautiful family of flowers that are grand and tall in appearance which makes them fantastic for tall flower gardens or arrangements. They can be appreciated on their own, but I think that they tend to look their best in a fuller, mixed planting or bouquet. Some flowers that look particularly lovely along with gladiolus include Asiatic lilies, carnations, roses and various members of the daisy family. Gladiolus flowers are available in various captivating colors which makes this flower a florist’s favorite as arrangements are always bright and full of joy.

A member of the iris family, “glads” are also called sword lilies because of their sharply pointed leaves and tall stalks of flowers with pointed tips. The Latin name for Gladiolus is “gladius,” which quite literally means “sword,” so this is a very clear reference to the sword-swinging gladiators of ancient Roman times.

There are 255 species of gladiolus and the plants range in size from two to five feet tall with elegant trumpet-shaped blossoms that grow in a double row along the stem. You can find hybrid varieties with ruffled, wavy or frilled petals and the flowers can be found in every color.

Gladiolus is native to tropical Africa and areas around the Mediterranean and Middle East. It is believed that gladiolus plants were first brought to Europe in the early 18th century. Around the 1820s, gardeners began to seriously cultivate gladiolus and create hybrid varieties that became very popular in gardens and as cut flowers.

Around 1837, new green, brown and purple shades of gladiolus flowers were developed in Belgium. In 1870, the French introduced a newly discovered species with deep purple streaks. By the 1880s, German and other European plant breeders had developed over 2,000 named varieties of gladiolus, which first appeared in American nurseries around 1891 and became wildly popular.

In floral history, gladiolus flowers have several different meanings. Because of their association with gladiators, they traditionally symbolize strength, sincerity and moral integrity. Gladiolus flowers also represent remembrance, calm and integrity. And even though their sword-shaped leaves hark back to ancient swords and battles, Victorian romantics determined that gladiolus flowers were capable of piercing someone’s heart with their beauty, adding infatuation to the list of traditional floral meanings.

If care is given to a planting schedule, flowers can be available from early summer until frost. To achieve this, the corms are planted at various times, usually at two- or three-week intervals, from as early as mid-February until the last of April. Set the corms 4 to 5 inches deep and 5 to 6 inches apart in groups or rows.

Gladiolus prefer well-prepared garden soils with good drainage. As soon as plants are 6 to 8 inches tall, apply fertilizer, such as 13-13-13, at the rate of 3 to 4 pounds per 100 square feet. Organic fertilizer sources, such as cottonseed meal, also work well. Water thoroughly when soil appears dry and stake the plants if necessary.

To save gladiolus corms for next year, dig up the corms after the foliage has dried back in late summer or fall. Remove the soil and snap off the dead tops. The old or original corm may be removed and discarded. Spread the corms out on the garage or storage-room floor and allow to dry for three to four days. Place the corms in boxes with dry peat moss or sawdust. Store in a dry, cool place at a temperature of 45 to 50 degrees F. Check them periodically during the winter for signs of rotting or rodent damage and discard those affected.

At least two species of gladiolus are considered heirloom plants in our area and may be left in the ground and grown as perennials. Gladiolus byzantinus, sometimes known as cornflags, mark many old home sites and cemetery plots in Texas and the south. Their magenta and rarely-white flower spikes are smaller than the hybrids usually available in florists and nurseries.

Another interesting gladiolus is Gladiolus natalensis, sometimes known as the parrot gladiolus. Flowers of this species, which is native to Africa, are larger than those of G. byzantinus, and are a brilliant combination of yellowish green and red. Both of these gladioli may be grown as perennials, and usually increase in numbers each year. They are commercially available, however, only from specialty bulb sources.

As for the poppy, these comparatively dainty blooms are also available in a wide variety of colors. Red poppies symbolize pleasure, white ones are sent to console the recipient, and yellow poppies send a message of success and wealth. If you don’t want to choose a particular color, you can always plan on having a bouquet by planting a wide range of poppies of many colors in your garden.

There is evidence of poppy culture back as far as 5,000 B.C. in the Tigris and Euphrates river region in modern day Iraq. Egyptian tombs contain poppies and the ancient Greeks associated them with Demeter, the goddess of fertility and agriculture. They considered the presence of poppies around a field of grain crops a sign of the goddess’ blessing, which insured a good harvest.

Poppies are best planted directly out in the garden as they are not fond of being transplanted. They germinate best at soil temperatures in the 50s or 60s so mid fall is generally a good time to plant them.

Select a location with full sun although a little shade is okay as long as they get at least six hours of direct sun. Build up a raised planting bed if the area is not well drained. Most species won’t tolerate soggy soil conditions at all.

There are several that I know do very well in our area, I like Breadseed (Papaver somniferum) as their foliage is a grayish blue green and plants reach a height of 2 to 3 feet tall bearing single or double blooms in colors ranging from deep red to pink and lavender.

Another nice one is Flanders Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) it has bright red blooms with one or two rows of slightly crinkly petals that somewhat resemble crepe paper. Flanders Poppies were brought to the Georgetown, Texas, area by local resident Henry Compton as he returned from service in France during World War One. These Flanders poppies are still found throughout the area, making Georgetown “The Red Poppy Capital of Texas.”

Yet another beauty is the Iceland Poppy (Papaver nudicaule) which sports some of the brightest colors in our Texas gardens. The blooms are rather large single flowers in glowing shades of white, yellow, coral orange, pink or red. The plants are typically 1 to 2 feet tall depending on variety and growing conditions.

If you know somebody who is celebrating their birthday during the month of August, it’s always a good idea to consider these flowers as a suitable and meaningful gift. Be sure to let the recipient know that these are special August birth month flowers as most folks don’t even know that birth-flowers exist.

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Joe Urbach is the publisher of GardeningAustin.com and the Phytonutrient Blog. He has lived in the Central Texas area for over 30 years. Urbach is a certified Texas Master Gardener from Hays County. For more information on the Master Gardener program contact the Hays County AgiLife Extension Service at 512-393-2120.

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