Design

‘Carolina Primrose’ Is Not Your Grandmother’s Gladiola

Fine Gardening – Issue 204
‘Carolina Primrose’ gladiola, Photo: courtesy of Plant Delights Nursery Inc.

Many gardeners are familiar with gladiolas. The usual response when asked about glads, however, along with a shaking of the head and a shudder, is “Not me.” No doubt they have not met ‘Carolina Primrose’. This sweet bulb (technically a corm) is at home in many garden situations but doesn’t dominate the planting like the traditional gladiola does. Its buttery yellow blossoms with tiny red stripes stand upright without support, delighting the discriminating eye of even the toughest gladiola critics.

The flowers are held lightly with just a few on each stem, and they appear for several weeks in early summer. Hardy to 0°F, ‘Carolina Primrose’ in colder areas can be lifted, stored over winter, and replanted in spring. It can be purchased either as nursery stock or as corms from online sources.

One of my favorite places to plant this beauty is with ornamental grasses. Most grasses come into their glory in late summer and fall. ‘Carolina Primrose’ brings loose, flowing color to grasses before they become wild and full. The yellow blooms are subtle, so massing plants or just letting them naturalize in a meadow creates the most impact.

This plant multiplies well without unwelcome aggressiveness. Considered a collector’s plant by many, ‘Carolina Primrose’ was discovered in an abandoned home site in North Carolina. It is thought to be a hybrid of South African gladiola (Gladiolus dalenii, Zones 8–10), which was brought to the United States in the 1900s. Although its parentage is a little obscure, it is well worth any sunny, well-drained place you can find for it.

Carolina Primrose gladiola illustration
Illustration: Elara Tanguy

‘Carolina Primrose’ gladiola

Gladiolus ‘Carolina Primrose’ (syn. Gladiolus dalenii ‘Carolina Primrose’)

Zones: 6–10

Conditions: Full sun; fertile, well-drained soil

Native range: Hybrid


Susan Calhoun resides in Bainbridge Island, Washington, where she creates stunning greenscapes as the principal designer of Plantswoman Design.

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