‘Ruby’ gladiolus (Gladiolus papilio ‘Ruby’)
A plant as exotic and sultry as a gemstone

USDA hardiness zones: 7 to 9
Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

Whenever we hear the word “ruby” mentioned, our thoughts always center on the gemstone and its ties to India and old Burma and their sensory overload of color, architecture, and din of life. The next thing we think of is the deep ruby color of a good pinot, especially as it swirls in a glass lit by firelight. Now that we have ‘Ruby’ gladiolus in our garden, this plant has become our mental screensaver, capturing and concentrating both the essence and nuance of silk and sadhu, wine and mood.

This hybrid retains the sophisticated poise of the species, but with everything good amplified. Narrow foliage with flower stems nearly 3 feet tall carry the mid- to late-summer flowers, which are a Freudian red and so intensely saturated, you can’t help but think of mating and mayhem. Fortunately, most of us have watched enough Game of Thrones that our evolutionary hardwiring can generally handle the stimuli.

‘Ruby’ gladiolus is popular in the United Kingdom but not well-known in the United States. It’s surprisingly hardy in the ground of our Zone 7 garden and easily handles our short dips into the low teens and, rarely, single digits. If given a deep covering of mulch, we suspect that this beauty could persevere in Zone 6 gardens. For those in even cooler locales, this glad can be grown in a pot and overwintered in a frost-free but cool spot (like an unheated garage). The plant increases by offsets readily, and it won’t be many years before you have an impressively sultry stand of it. Before this happens, however, you might want to have a therapist lined up.

Kelly Dodson and Sue Milliken grow some of the coolest plants on the planet at Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, Washington.

Fine Gardening magazine has graciously allowed us to post some past Plant Profiles we have authored. We have worked with the magazine for a number of years and more recently in the capacity of contributing editors. The folks at the magazine have been a joy to work with and have been very amenable to our occasional quirkiness and interest in unusual plants. One of the things we appreciate about the staff at FG is they are constantly in motion visiting top gardeners and gardens across the country and then enlisting them to write about the plants and design strategies that light them up. It is no small feat to make a publication contain relevance to any part of the country but they pull it off with each issue.