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updated: 8/20/2011 8:56 AM

Gladiolus grower raises champion flowers

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  • Ed Frederick of Elgin has several large beds where he grows his gladioluses, in addition to some vegetables and herbs.

       Ed Frederick of Elgin has several large beds where he grows his gladioluses, in addition to some vegetables and herbs.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Frederick also grows his own bulbs from seed, in a small, raised greenhouse that he monitors carefully.

       Frederick also grows his own bulbs from seed, in a small, raised greenhouse that he monitors carefully.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Ed Frederick explains the various varieties and growing methods for his famous gladioluses at his Elgin home.

       Ed Frederick explains the various varieties and growing methods for his famous gladioluses at his Elgin home.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Ed Frederick talks about some of the many awards he has received over the years for his gladiolus. Only a small portion of the plaques and ribbons can be seen here. At 78, he still travels to out-of-state competitions with his gladioluses.

       Ed Frederick talks about some of the many awards he has received over the years for his gladiolus. Only a small portion of the plaques and ribbons can be seen here. At 78, he still travels to out-of-state competitions with his gladioluses.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

 

The world around him is changing but Ed Frederick has maintained his love for the tall spiked flower called gladiolus.

And even at 78 -- with two new knees, a new shoulder and a new back -- he has maintained his success in growing it.

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Frederick, of Elgin, finished as the grand champion in two different gladiolus categories at the Illinois State Fair this year and he also received the governor's trophy -- a triple triumph he says is rare, but one he has done before.

And all that in the worst growing season he said he has ever seen in his whole life.

Frederick got hooked on glads in 1951 when a member of the Illinois Gladiolus Society asked him if he wanted to join the group for $3. He said he won his first grand championship just three years later.

That was in a time when there were six different opportunities to compete in Illinois in a given year. Now there is just one: the state fair, which he showed glads in for the 55th time this year.

The number of people showing has declined steadily over the years, too, as Frederick's generation disappears without being replaced.

"Everything has changed," Frederick said, referencing more than just flowers. "It's a good thing in one situation, but gladioluses are going out."

Frederick regularly travels out of state for competitions, packing up his blooms and hitting the road. The week before the Illinois State Fair, Frederick took home the top prize in Iowa's fair, too.

His Elgin home is brimming with trophies, plaques and ribbons cataloging his success in Illinois and surrounding states.

It's harder than ever to make the long trips now as the threat of blood clots stays high in Frederick's mind. But his zeal for the competition beats out the knowledge that he should probably slow down -- and the pleas from his wife.

Looking at a flower not quite ready but bound to be a beauty, Frederick said he didn't care about any of it; if it opened in time, he was going to Athens, Wis., for the competition there.

Since retirement, Frederick has had more opportunity to do more than just plant -- he has started to cross.

In the last 17 years Frederick said he has created more than 25 varieties. Plants, growing in neat rows in his gardens, are labeled. Names like King Tut, Soft Touch, Eclipse and Headliner mark the individual gladiolas, some destined for stardom.

"You strive for perfection -- perfection at the trade," Frederick said. "I just try to do the best I can. I learn and I study."

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