Stinking Gladdon?

Is it an exclamation- you know, ‘Well, stinking gladdon!’- when something really surprises you? At first, I thought it might be an abusive term for a floozie hanging around Cardiff Docks.

But no, it is the answer to one of your ‘What the —- will grow there?’ gardening prayers!

Iris foetidissima is a native iris, aka ‘Gladwin’ or ‘Stinking Gladdon.’

Its early summer flowers are subtly lilac veined.


The superior form ‘Citrina’ is topaz hued.

Now, no one is pretending that this is one of those flamboyant bearded bloomers which get shown at Chelsea, but it is infinitely more adaptable. Graham Stuart Thomas, who in the olden days, before the likes of Tom Stuart Smith and Piet Oudolf, was the god of perennial plants, says of it simply ‘an invaluable plant.’

For the ‘Gladwin’ can be grown beneath shrubs and trees.  I grow it beneath an ash, a Cornus kousa and beneath a vast purple beech. In particular the last site is also quite dry, since the monstrous beech is taking water up by the tanker full all summer long. In this situation, shaded above, it has a wall behind to the west and also to the south. So it is one of the answers to the old ‘dry shade’ conundrum.

It will grow in any soil, even pure chalk – I have GST to thank for that fact, because I have gardened on many soils, but never pure chalk! I was delighted to see it the other day coming up through a mass of ivy beneath a rather horrible conifer. Will nothing stop this guy? 

It also tolerates traffic pollution and salt spray. There is a very healthy patch of it on a traffic island, on the ‘Hotwells one way system’ in Bristol. Here, it is also in full sun. I fancy the evergreen foliage, which is usually a rich deep green, is less rich in sunlight, but it is still very happy.

Being evergreen in winter must be a canny survival strategy, because it is keeping its strength up when other plants are dormant, and it also makes it a great tool for the gardeners who don’t want acres of bare soil in the direst months of the year.

But its piece de resistance is:

the most remarkable Autumn/Winter display of orange seeds! By this time, photographed yesterday they seem to be an almost jewel- like tumble of gravity defying berries.

So what’s with the ‘stinky’ bit?

If bruised the foliage does not smell pleasant, I grant you. But then I don’t go a bundle on the smell of box, salvia and choisya leaves and grow the lot. When it does everything else, why be picky?

May be that is how Gladwin or Stinking Gladdon felt! Maybe he had a bit of a problem. And it was a he, since Gladwin is a male name derived from the Old English Glaedwine. (I was therefore completely out regarding the floozie from Cardiff Docks!)

Perhaps in every other respect the Gladwin of old was an absolute brick.

So is Iris foetidissima!