How Jackie Kennedy’s Criticism Improved the Gladiolus

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By Jill Brooke

Guess what is the one flower Jackie O disliked and didn’t want in any floral arrangements?

It’s the flower of August – the gladiolus.

However, since the legendary Jackie O was a woman whose taste and style was so universally admired, experts understand what her complaint was and actually spent years trying to fix it.

“During the time of Jackie O. and the Kennedy’s, the only gladiolus that were available were glads with florets larger than 3 ½ inches across, mostly larger than 4 ½ inches that stood 5 to 6 feet tall in the garden,” explains David Kollasch, the President of the National Association of Gladiolus Society

“Many of these were impressive looking, but needed to be staked in the garden and if brought into the house would be put in a corner of a room for support. This explains the reputation they had acquired of being the funeral flower.”

It’s not that Jackie didn’t love flowers. Au contraire.

She adored them along with art and culture. Jackie was instrumental in restoring the White House Rose Garden as well as the decor within the historic residence. She actually instructed White House staff to never have gladiolus and instead favored white peonies and blue cornflowers. In fact, when John Jr. married Carolyn Bessette in 1996, he wore a cornflower boutonniere to his wedding.

But if she would have lived longer, oh would she be delighted to see how far gladiolus has come!

“In the 1960s and 1970s, growers began discussing what they called miniature glads, glads with florets under 3 ½ inches across,” says Selinger. “A few of these were developed, but they were not popular with the growers, especially not at the shows.”

Thus the consumer didn’t see these delightful spears of love – as they are also known – until much later.

In 2003, Dave Kollasch – who is respected as one of the great innovators of this glorious flower – attended a show in Wisconsin armed with armfuls of glads with smaller florets. 

Soon others realized the practicality of these innovations.

Today, gladiolus with florets as small as ¾ inch are available. Some of these with flowerheads of 18 inches or less can be arranged in a bud vase, a far different way to enjoy the wide variety of shapes and colors that are available in gladiolus today. 

And the variety of colors is astounding. Apricot Dream, Fringed Coral Lace. Northern Lights. Orange Joy. Merlot Wine. Summer Rose.

Therefore we can thank Jackie O as well as Dave Selinger for all the gladiolus available and for that we should be “glad.”


Photo Credit: Wikipedia, Pixabay and The Wild Folk Florist

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