Gladiolus 'Purple Prince'
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Gladiolus ‘Purple Prince’

Growing up in North Carolina, it’s not uncommon to see gladiolus growing along country roads as you drive through older rural communities. For that reason, I could never reconcile why all the gladiolus I ordered from mail order catalogs never overwintered. Was my thumb really that black?

It wasn’t until I visited Holland in 2004 and toured a commercial gladiolus breeder that I had a gladiolus aha moment.  As we walked the fields, admiring the amazing gladiolus, I inquired how many of these had good winter hardiness.  To my surprise, the breeder replied, none. They went on to explain that they breed gladiolus so they won’t survive the winter. I was taken aback by their answer and posed the question how many daffodils would they sell if none were winter hardy? This prompted a rather curious look, as it that thought had never occurred to them.
Incredulous at my discovery, I returned home and resumed my search for winter hardy glads. The more I researched gladiolus breeding, it became evident that almost all gladiolus hybridized and introduced until the early 1960s were perfectly winter hardy in our climate.  It was sometime after this point, that the trend veered off turning gladiolus into annuals.
Consequently, I began collecting what are known as heirloom glads…plants whose heritage takes them back at least 50-100 years ago.  Some of the plants I have since acquired and grown are indeed great garden specimens, although those bred specifically as cut flowers aren’t particularly sturdy when fully open in the garden without staking.
On a trip to  England nearly a decade ago, I was visiting my friend Bob Brown’s Cotswold Nursery. Bob’s nursery is always a favorite stop to find exceptional new and interesting plants. I had my wagon nearly full, when I spied a dormant pot with a tag, Gladiolus ‘Purple Prince’. Into the cart it went to be inspected for its journey back to NC. 
Our new acquisition was planted along with other gladiolus in our trial garden and when it came into flower the following June, I was smitten. The spikes, which open in early June are composed of large dark purple flowers that put on an incredible show. For us, Gladiolus ‘Purple Prince’ is an amazing garden specimen, which, if you’re so inclined, yields several vases of flowers each year.
Almost a decade went by before I was able to finally track down its origin. It seems that Gladiolus ‘Purple Prince’ is a recently  bred hybrid by a small independent Dutch breeder, Hermien Challa, who’s interested in creating gladiolus with both good garden presence and a good size for cuts in a home vase.  Because most of the large Dutch growers don’t want the gladiolus they sell to be winter hardy, it’s no wonder that virtually none of Hermien’s hybrids appear in the mainstream bulb catalogs. 
We’ll continue to grow and tout the virtue of this great gladiolus, while we continue to try and secure more of Hermien’s new creations. Better go now…it’s time to cut some Gladiolus ‘Purple Prince’ to bring into the house for Anita.

– Tony Avent

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