January 29, 2012

Maine Gardener: Glad tidings he brings to fans of this flower


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The Cates family’s glad field is awash in blooming flowers in these photos from summer 2011.

Margaret Cates photos

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In addition to growing glads, Cates earned a living as a circuit-riding preacher for the Society of Friends (Quakers), and teaching German in Vassalboro and at Erskine Academy in South China, finally retiring at age 80.

But the glad business continued to grow.

Glads reproduce rapidly. On the plants that bloom, the main bulb usually dies off, but many smaller corms are produced. On plants that don't bloom, the bulb stores energy so it can bloom the next year in addition to sometimes creating more corms, which can be planted to create future bulbs. 

In other words, if you are growing glads for flowers, pretty soon you are going to have a lot of extra bulbs.

"After a while, people started saying to us, 'Why don't you share your stock and put out a catalog?' So about the 10th year, we started a price list, and then that developed into a color catalog," Cates said.

That is where the business is now. The family delivers flowers from glads as well as annuals, dahlias and some perennials to florists as far south as South Portland, and they sell gladiolus bulbs through their own catalog and wholesale to Old House Gardens.

Cates said he does not make a lot of money with the business, but it is enough to keep his children at home and on the land.

"We really get a pleasure out of spreading these heirloom type of varieties all over the country," Cates said. "We really do it for the love of the flower."

He said it's a boon for his business to be able to sell a few thousand of a specific bulb at a time to Old House Gardens. He still has a lot of bulbs to sell in the Cates Family catalog, because Old House Gardens does not sell any bulbs introduced after 1970.

"There are several glad varieties from 1971 and 1972 that are the best of the color classifications," Cates said, "and he (Kunst) just rejects them, because they are a year or two younger than his deadline."

The Cates family has no such rules. The catalog has old glads and new, varieties that they like and that do well. And Cates proudly says his bulbs are a lot less expensive than the ones in Old House Gardens.

You can get the Cates catalog by visiting the business' website, cates-family-glads.org, and check out the Old House Gardens catalog at oldhousegardens.com.


The Portland Flower Show again this year will be running an essay contest for ages 6 to 18.

Categories are ages 6 to 9, 10 to 13 and 14 to 18, and prizes of $50, $30 and $20 will be offered in each age group. 

The essays this year will be detailing plans for a celebration to be held outdoors. The winners will be announced during the opening-night preview March 7.

Submission deadline is Feb. 16. For an application form and rules, contact the University of Maine Extension office in Cumberland County at (800) 287-1471 or go to the flower show website, portlandcompany/flower.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:



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