Notes from Up North

Although we're not the northernmost supplier of gladiolus in the Western Hemisphere, we're pretty far up there! With that in mind, the annual letter which appears in our catalog is called "Notes from Up North." Generally we convince Paul to write it while Elisabeth and the rest of the Cates Family Glads team work on inventory and creating the price list. It's our way of keeping in touch with our loyal customer base.


January 1996

It always seemed to me to be a minor scandal that so many new glad varieties were introduced each year. Why this inflation of new introductions, most of which will be forgotten in ten years, while others will have crowded out old-timers as good as, or better than the 'upstarts'? I'm sure we have all spent good, hard-earned dollars purchasing the newest sensations, only to be sadly disappointed because of some flaw related to color, attachment, health, or straightness. Sometimes a highly touted newcomer just doesn't ring a bell with us, and for no definable reason.

Back in the 1940s, Bengasi was a true sensation. That picture in the New England yearbook was simply breathtaking: tall, straight, with ruffled, needle-pointed, perfectly placed florets. How this teenaged glad grower wished he had the $7.50 necessary to purchase this horticultural marvel which could only have been lowered to earth by the gods of Valhalla.

Maybe that was the only flawless specimen of Bengasi. At any rate, a year later the same yearbook spoke, chuckling, of the 'affectionate' glad. It seems that Bengasi crooked so badly that the stems of neighboring spikes literally wrapped themselves around each other as if in loveing embrace.

Experience of the last few years has made me change my attitude regarding the number of new introductions. In fact, I'm now wondering why there are so few.

A few years ago I received, almost by accident, fifty unbloomed seedlings by an Illinois glad grower named Homer Marti. (I'm sure he was more than a little startled when he later received a report on his seedlings from a complete stranger in Maine.)

Homer must be a respectable hybridizer, because of the fifty seedlings we are still propagating twenty, and one, maybe two look to be outstanding. This has brought me to the assumption that there must be literally thousands of really good new seedlings blossoming every year. So how do the cataloguers maintain the discipline needed to hold the number of new introductions down at such a low level?

So... the cataloguer has his work cut out for him, choosing between prospective glad greats. After his (or her) work is done, we growers have a job that is every bit as important. We reevaluate the new glads, and this happens all over the country, under vastly different growing conditions.

I don't consider that a glad has really made it in our fields until I am satisfied with a commercial planting of at least several hundred bulbs. Then follows a sort of personal 're-introduction' of that variety into a higher level of respect.

This year, several newer and not so new varieties made it. Just a few names: Tantastic, Pulchritude, Peerless, Miss Blue, and Dusty Rose. Many others are really looking good, though stock is still too small for a final judgement: First Snow, Miss Formality, Ruffled Velvet, First Kiss, Carved Ivory, and Blue Grotto, which is finally multiplying. First blossoms of Michael B., Blue Lady, Sorceror, Sunsport, and Tiger Paws were most impressive. But who trusts his judgement after first impressions?

Getting back to the sensational dud of the 1940s, Bengasi, I'll bet that glad was highly respectable in the originator's garden. Its flaws probably became obvious under different growing conditions.

Anyone still have a bulb? I'd like to give it a try!