Gladiolus gardeners are making the most of the pandemic gardening boom
Nestled between dry paddocks in South East South Australia, an oasis of colorful gladioli flowers, photographed from the air, bloom in the scorching summer sun.
Gladioli are perennial flowers that bloom during the summer.
They grow from a bulb, which looks like a bulb, and are known for their sword-shaped leaves and funnel-shaped flowers.
If they sound familiar to you, it might be because ‘gladdies’ are also a favorite of Australian icon Dame Edna Everage.
These rows of striking flowers near Bordertown are no accident.
They have been grown by a local family for over 50 years.
“An enterprising person”
The Ridgway family started growing gladioli in 1969.
Ted Ridgway planted the flowers looking for a way to diversify the family business after wheat quotas were introduced to limit production.
He was 18 and had left school the previous year.
“Being an enterprising person, I thought maybe I could go into horticulture,” he said.
“I’ve invested my whole life of $600 in the business and bought cardboard boxes of light bulbs that fit in the back of my old man’s station wagon and brought them home.”
Mr. Ridgway first grew them for the cut flower market, but now the family only sell bulbs.
Many things have changed in the production process, including the addition of mechanization.
“When I first harvested the bulbs years ago, I used to bring in four old ladies from Wolseley and it was backbreaking work,” he said.
Mr Ridgway’s son, Andrew, took over the reins of the operation.
“We import the little [corms] and make them grow,” he said.
“We harvest them, process them, clean them, size them and then sell them to the home garden trade across Australia.”
Pandemic gardening has become popular during COVID-19 shutdowns as people look for an excuse to get outside.
Plants, bulbs, seeds and fruit trees have flown off the shelves of garden centers across Australia.
Andrew Ridgway said business had exploded.
“Unable to spend their money to go to Bali, Australians wanted to spend their money on themselves,” he said.
Ridgways’ products have completely sold out over the past two years.
Nursery and Garden Industry South Australia chairman David Eaton said the gardening trend started with edible plants.
“As soon as COVID hit, people planted them in gardens to secure the future of their vegetable crops,” Mr Eaton said.
The craze then shifted to indoor plants before consumers began to invest more in flowers.
The Ridgway family have increased their plantings by 25% hoping that home gardeners will continue their new hobby.
“This year will be a real test to see if the inspiration to keep gardening will continue,” said Andrew Ridgway.
“So there are 2 million bulbs this year. If we can sell 1.5 million, that will probably be the market.
“I don’t think there would be much more room for that, it might be a surprise. If we sell it would be wonderful.”
This is the garden industry’s next challenge: to sustain the interest of a new breed of gardener.
“I think there is still a great future for the garden,” Mr Eaton said.
“[People] have spent a lot of time over the past two years in their garden improving it.
“Of the new people we’ve brought into the industry, who have started gardening, we can probably maintain 20-25%, hopefully.”