I, Gladiolus

November 14, 2012

I really want to champion the cause of the unfashionable gladioli, but in future must remember the “buyer beware” warning.

I’d been on the lookout for gladioli for a couple of weeks, since my mother was given one by a stranger. At a post-medical appointment coffee ‘n cake break, she was presented with a lovely white gladdie plucked from a vase by the young male café manager. She had a new admirer, I was all but ignored and the words ‘chopped liver’ came to mind. No matter. The gesture brought a million dollar smile to her face and she can’t wait for next month’s appointment.

My mother always appreciated my father walking in the front door with a gladioli sheath for her birthday. I’d had a chat with him one year and suggested he swap the usual carnations for something more provocative. So throughout the ‘70s we embraced gladioli – until celebration roses took over.

Dame Edna Everage of course kept them in the public eye. For over 40 years, she endorsed them and her live show devotees in the front stalls risked serious eye damage as she javelined them from the stage. The word ‘Gladiolus’ comes from the Roman gladius meaning sword: a small sword was called a gladiolus. As a gladiator skilled in entertaining the public, the good Dame did wonders with these ‘sword lilies’. But with the Housewife Superstar’s retirement last July, I fear for their future.

red gladioli in vase

A display I prepared earlier, playing around with a Holga camera

I was so desperate for a bunch four days ago, I believed the florist’s “coupla days” response to my question about the unopened flower buds. Gladioli are seen by some as a bit frou-frou, but I love the contrasting frilly edges against the sharpness of the slender pointy leaves. Unfortunately, all I have in my vase are slender pointy leaves.

Maybe I should cut my losses and think about dinner? Gladdies are edible (except for the anthers) with a somewhat bland, lettuce-like taste. They’re recommended for holding tasty tidbits and I’m picturing them as an alternative to the iceberg lettuce cup for Sang Choi Bao. Or an Italian gorgonzola dip. Maybe decorating a refreshing sorbet alongside the other flowers currently scattered on fashionable restaurant plates.

So, is a new Gladioli ambassador already waiting in the wings? Morrissey, while performing The Smiths’ lyrics about sexual ambiguity and lust, used to shower the band’s fans with gladdies as a nod to his hero Oscar Wilde. I’d like to encourage him to continue.

Gladioli Sculpture Melbourne

As part of Dame Edna’s farewell tour this year, a 13-metre outdoor gladioli sculpture was erected in Melbourne where she recited the ‘Ode to the Gladioli’ but surprisingly confessed to the flowers being “unsubtle and slightly common”.

As if that’s a bad thing. 

Barry Humphries and the giant vase of Gladioli in honour of Dame Edna on the Arts Centre lawns.

(Photo: Donna Demaio)

PS. I’ve just read the latest post on one of my favourite blogs ‘The Gardenist’. Yes, it’s all about the gladdie!



  1. Hello, I didn’t know the gladioli are eatable. I haven’t this variety “Dame Edna Everage” in my garden, the most of mine had no lable when I purchased their bulbs.
    Thank you for stopping by!

    • Dame Edna Everage is actually a stage character created and played by Australian performer and comedian, Barry Humphries and has been popular in Australia, Britain and the US for many years. “She” always throws gladioli into the audience at the end of her stage shows. As far as I know, there isn’t a gladiolus named after her (although I should check!). Thanks for your comment. cheers Ambra

  2. About time someone praised this immodest flower. Wish I had known they were edible before. I’ve always found them really unpractical, not having a vase or container big enough for a display, but now I’ll just serve the flowers instead.

  3. Well I hope you can even find some in a gardening shop. I have been looking for ages for some – can never spot them. Must be hidden in corners. But bravo for bringing them back! A truly fabulously OTT flower – what’s not to love about that?

    • Yes, so frustrating. I want to make some summer garlands/necklaces and hope that they’ll be more around in Dec/Jan. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Apparently they’re coming back into horticultural fashion? A florist told me recently that they’re big again. (Quite literally, considering their size.) So perhaps you are right on the ‘botanical trend’?

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