Creating new gladiolus hybrids is so easy and so rewarding that it can quickly become an obsession—which is exactly what it is for me. Even so, I still find it challenging after growing these plants for more than 30 years. After all, what could be more exciting than creating a beautiful or unusual gladiolus that isn’t available commercially?
As for ease, I’ve taught eight-year-old children how to pollinate gladiolus. You can view your hybridizing results quickly—sometimes the same year the seeds are planted. And once you have created an exceptional seedling, it can be multiplied into hundreds of additional corms within two or three years.
The challenge lies in that no two seedlings are ever the same. By crossing two pure-white gladiolus, you could just as easily end up with seedlings that are pink, blue, yellow, red, or rose as seedlings that are white. But despite this amazing variation, hybridizing is not entirely random. White parents produce a preponderance of white offspring, and heavily ruffled parents usually pass ruffling on to their seedlings. Any breeder soon learns that certain cultivars are superior parents, and that an undistinguished cultivar may be the progenitor of seedlings far better than the parent. Conversely, some gladiolus which are beautiful beyond words may be duds as parents. Selecting the best parents is a kind of mystery—something you only learn from trial and error.
Interestingly, all modern gladiolus evolved from crosses of only six or seven of the more than 200 species. But these modern hybrids, despite their variety and charm, generally lack such qualities as fragrance or a true blue color. Now, at long last, a few adventurous breeders are delving into this great genetic pool to see what breakthroughs in hybridizing may be possible.