Pinks are one of my favourite flowers, for their wonderful spicy clove-scented perfume; their heritage and history; their butterfly-attracting qualities; and their low maintenance and ease of growth, being heat and drought tolerant with very few pests. While I only have a few varieties in my garden, I would love to grow more, so I thought I would find out a little more about them, hence this post. These are the varieties I grow in my treasure garden: Coconut Sundae; Doris; Valda Wyatt; Sugar Plum and Mrs Sinkins.
Pinks belong to the family Carophyllaceae and the genus Dianthus, whose name originated from two Ancient Greek words: Διός (Dios) meaning ‘of Zeus’ and ἀνθός (anthos) meaning ‘Flower’, hence its symbolic meaning ‘Flower of the Gods’ or ‘Divine Flower’. Their naming was attributed to the Ancient Greek botanist, Theophrastus, and the flower was extensively grown by the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans. In the first century AD, Pliny wrote that the clove carnation was discovered in Spain in the days of Augustus Caesar, when it was used in garlands.
The genus Dianthus contains 300 species, which are mostly native to Europe and Asia (Zones 3 to 9), with a few species extending to North Africa and one species, Dianthus repens, native to arctic North America. The photo below is a pink called Coconut Sundae.Common names include:
Pinks, the word deriving from the Old English pynken and referring to the fringed edges of the flowers, which look like they have been cut with pinking shears, rather than their colour, which ranges from white, pink, rose, deep red and even a lavender/purple;
Cheddar Pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus), after the Cheddar Gorge, England, where pinks have naturalized;
Chinese Pinks or Chinnies (Dianthus chinensis), a low-growing annual, 6 inches high, which has deeply fringed, single scented flowers, which bloom for longer than biennial or perennial pinks;
Clove Pinks, due to the scent; and the delightful name,
Gillyflowers, again due to the scent, their name being a corruption of ‘le giroflier’, which is the French name for the Clove Tree (Syzgium aromaticum).
Popular in Medieval times for flavouring mulled wines and during the Tudor Period (1485-1603), Dianthus have been extensively bred and hybridized since 1717 to produce thousands of cultivars for use in the garden and floristry, with a wide variety of sizes; shapes; patterns and markings; and colours and shades from white to pink, salmon, yellow and red. Carnations with coloured stripes were very popular in the 17th century, but were soon supplanted by those with different coloured spots, which were called piquettes.
Today, there are more than 30,000 cultivar names registered on the International Dianthus Register, but many of these lasted commercially for only a short time. See: https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/plantsmanship/plant-registration/dianthus-cultivar-registration and https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/pdfs/plant-register-supplements/dianthus/dianthus32nd.pdf.
Bizarres (clear ground, marked and flaked with 2 or 3 colours, and categorised according to the dominant colour);
Flakes (clear ground, flaked with one colour);
Selfs (any one shade);
Fancies (varieties not falling into the previous classes, having a yellow or white ground, or mottled, flaked or spotted with various colours) and
Picotees (colours confined to the petal margins).
Over 100 varieties of Dianthus have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit.
Most pinks are short-lived herbaceous perennials, though a few species are annuals, biennials and low sub-shrubs with woody basal stems.
The most common types are:
Carnations Dianthus carophyllus;
Sweet William Dianthus barbatus (biennial);
Perennial Pinks, Dianthus plumarius (Cottage Pinks) from Eastern Europe;
Dianthus deltoides (Maiden Pinks), native to Britain;
Dianthus gratianopolitanus (Cheddar Pinks); and
D. armeria (Grass Pinks or Deptford Pink).
Below is a photo of Valda Wyatt.Description:
Pinks and Carnations
Plants: Tufting or spreading perennials, which form a rounded erect mound or trailing mat, from 6 cm (2.5 inches) to 0.9 metres (3 foot) tall, more commonly up to 0.4 metres (18 inches) high, though Sweet William is a biennial or short-lived perennial up to 60 cm (2 foot) tall. Carnations are not as hardy as their smaller cousins, but have longer stems and grow up to 2 foot high.
Foliage: Opposite; simple; mostly linear and strongly glaucous grey-green to blue-green leaves. Modern pinks have heavier, coarser leaves and stems than older varieties, whose leaves are more finely divided. Carnations have larger thicker leaves, which curl at the tip.
Mule Pinks, which are a cross between Dianthus caryophyllus (carnations) and Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William), have greener leaves, with a more erect growth habit and smaller flowers than carnations. Mule Pinks date back to around 1715 and include Emile Pare, bred in France in 1840 and Napoleon III.Flowers: Single, semi-double and fully double flowers, ranging in size from less than 2.5 cm to 6.35 cm, all varieties have five petals, a frilled or pinked margins of varying depth and a strong spicy fragrance.
Species Dianthus have a limited colour range from pale to dark pink and blooms are borne singly or in small heads on the top of wiry stems from late Spring and early Summer (their peak blooming time) to Autumn and until the first frosts.
Pinks tend to have smaller, more highly fragrant, white to pink/ maroon flowers, which only flower once in early Summer, while carnation blooms are larger, less fragrant, have a larger colour range and flower perpetually.
There are three types of carnation:
Large Flowered/ Sims: One flower per stem;
Spray: Multiple smaller flowers per stem; and
Dwarf-Flowered Carnations: Several small flowers on one stem.Sweet William Dianthus barbatus
Native to the Pyrenees and Balkan mountains, Sweet William was introduced into Northern Europe in the 16th century, growing at Hampton Court since 1533, and has become an archetypal cottage garden plant. They are easy to grow and very hardy, but do not like warm, humid Summers. A short-lived perennial, it is normally grown as a biennial, flowering in the second year from Spring to mid-Summer. If they are cut back hard after flowering, they will flower just as well the next year. Colours range from pale pink to a deep black-red. The Latin name ‘barbatus’ means ‘bearded’, referring to the markings around the entrance to the pollen that the flowers carry to entice butterflies and moths to pollinate them. To view an assortment of Sweet Williams, see: http://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sweet-William-Single-Mixed.html#.WwylMYpx3IU.
Varieties of Pinks and Carnations
See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dianthus for a list of all the different species, but for gardeners, interested in growing Dianthus, especially heritage varieties, it is well worth looking at: https://www.allwoods.net/. Allwoods Nursery (London Road, Hassocks, West Sussex BN6 9NA; Phone: 01273 844229) was started in 1910 by Montague Allwood, who crossed oldfashioned hardy clove-scented pinks D. plumarius, and perpetually flowering carnations D. caryophyllus to produce a new race of perpetually-flowering pinks with scented, double flowers, which became known as Dianthus x allwoodii, and were often given Christian names like ‘Doris‘, a salmon-pink bred in 1945. They are the leading Dianthus specialists in the world and stock over 500 different varieties of pinks and carnations, as well as pelargoniums and succulents.
Pinks are divided into four categories:
Long Flowering Garden Pinks (Allwoodii Pinks) : Repeat flowering over at least 8 weeks with a beautiful clove scent, though in some varieties, scent has been sacrificed for flower production. Most have double blooms and come in two sizes, 7.5 to 15 cm (3 to 6 inches) and 25 to 45 cm (10 to 18 inches) tall. eg the slightly perfumed Doris 1945; and Valda Wyatt 1981.
There are some modern breeders like John Whetman from Whetman Pinks (http://www.whetmanpinks.com/), who have focused their attention on scent, for example, his Devon Cottage Series and Scent First Series, which is long-flowering and highly fragrant and includes Coconut Sundae, seen in the photo below.Alpine Pinks: Mat-forming perennials, growing to 10 cm (4 inches), which make terrific ground covers, with masses of scented flowers throughout the summer. They are perfect for the rockery or alpine garden. Eg Maiden Pinks Dianthus deltoides; and Alpine Pinks D. alpinus.
Laced Garden Pinks: Very popular in Victorian times and deservedly so! These beautiful blooms are quite stunning, having dramatic markings and lacings on the petals, a long flowering period (like the Allwoodii types) and a lovely clove scent.
During the mid-nineteenth century, the weavers of Paisley, Scotland bred Laced Pinks from Dianthus plumarius, producing over 80 new varieties, known as the Paisley Pinks. Only a few types survive.
Some of my favourite Laced Pinks include: Old Velvet https://www.allwoods.net/online-store/Old-Velvet-age-unknown-p83926316; Paisley Gem 1798 Maroon edged white, grown during the Industrial Revolution: https://www.allwoods.net/online-store/Paisley-Gem-1798-p83926296; Dad’s Favourite 1800s Semi-double highly scented, white ground laced with velvety maroon. See: https://www.justplants.net/DIANTHUS_dads_favourite/p1363092_6350642.aspx; and Oxford Magic 1998 https://www.allwoods.net/online-store/Oxford-Magic-1998-p83926295. Below is a photo of Valda Wyatt.Heritage and Old World Garden Pinks: Strongly scented evergreen perennials, which form clumps to 45 cm (1.5 feet) of blue-green foliage, with masses of flowers in early to mid summer only. Some examples include:
Mrs Sinkins, bred in 1868 and named for the breeder’s wife, it is white with a green eye;
Cheddar Pink D. gratianopolitanus, a gray-green leaved mat-forming type that blooms once a year. Highly scented, they were so popular with 19th century gardeners that they were collected nearly to extinction. See: https://www.gardenia.net/plant/Dianthus-Gratianopolitanus-Cheddar-Pink.
Carthusian Pink, Dianthus carthusianorum, found growing wild on dry limestone hillsides in southern, central and western Europe and introduced into Britain by the Carthusian monks in 1573. More like Dianthus barbatus, it has a grass-like mound of fine green leaves, tall straight stems and small, flat-headed clusters of seven or eight bright magenta, single, slightly fragrant flowers from Summer till early Autumn, followed by a decorative seedhead. It is best grown from seed. See: https://www.sarahraven.com/flowers/seeds/perennials/dianthus_carthusianorum.htm.
Caesar’s Mantle (Bloodie Pink or Abbotswood) 15th century, a deep carmine pink with a maroon central zone. Increasingly rare.
Pheasants Eye Pre 1600s Semi-double white with dark velvety maroon centre, extending in a thin line around the deeply fringed edge. https://www.selectseeds.com/old-fashioned-pinks/pink_inchmery_plants.aspx. One of the earliest cultivars still available.
Queen of Sheba Early 1600s Single white with delicately traced magenta lacing. See: http://www.sequimrareplants.com/Dianthus%20%27Queen%20of%20Sheba%27.html;
Fountains Abbey Early 1600s. Semi-double bloom similar to Queen of Sheba, but with darker crimson markings;
Sops in Wine Highly clove scented semi-double creamy white blooms with a raspberry eye. See: https://www.allwoods.net/online-store/Sops-in-Wine-age-unknown-p83926326. Please note that there is another type grown under this name and sold by many UK nurseries, which looks totally different. See: http://www.sequimrareplants.com/Dianthus%20%27Sops%20in%20Wine%27.html.
Fimbriata 17th Century Ivory double white;
Painted Lady 1700 Heavily scented compact lilac pink flowers with a deeper centre. See: https://www.allwoods.net/online-store/Painted-Lady-1700-p83926317.
Cockenzie Pink/ Montrose Pink 1720 Semi-double heavily-fringed dark carmine pink with a darker damson pink central eye. See: https://www.allwoods.net/online-store/Cockenzie-Pink-1720-p83926301;
Inchmery 1800 Shell pink flat double strongly-perfumed blooms. See: https://www.selectseeds.com/old-fashioned-pinks/pink_inchmery_plants.aspx.
Carnations are divided into two categories:
Border Carnations: Hardy garden carnations, which do not require a heated greenhouse. They have a wide range of colour combinations and a heady perfume, but only a short flowering season (late Spring to mid-Summer) and are no longer grown commercially.
Perpetual Flowering or Greenhouse Carnations: Often used for exhibition purposes, they are grown in greenhouses or polytunnels or outside in the Summer only. They are generally not winter hardy in the garden, as they don’t like to be too wet and cold at the same time, so it is advisable to bring them into a greenhouse or conservatory end September / October and keep over winter inside. If they are kept at 7 degrees Celsius, they will flower in winter as well as during the summer.
Most are scentless, but some of the older varieties like Malmaison carnations and other old greenhouse varieties are scented, though they flower less frequently. Malmaison carnations, which grow to 70 cm (4.5 foot), are derived from the variety ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, and have an intense clove fragrance.
Below is a photo of a new favourite pink in my garden: Sugar Plum, bred by Whetmans Pinks.For Australian gardeners, read: http://www.pennywoodward.com.au/dianthus-gillyflowers-carnations-pinks-sweet-williams-picotees-selfs-and-fancies/. The main sources for Dianthus appear to be: Lambley’s Nursery, Victoria, which grows 50 different cultivars in their Dianthus Walk and is in full bloom in November. See: https://lambley.com.au/search/content/Dianthus and Woodbridge Nursery, Tasmania: https://www.woodbridgenursery.com.au/search?orderby=position&orderway=desc&search_query=Dianthus.
Dianthus seed is available from: Swallowtail Garden Seeds, United States: https://www.swallowtailgardenseeds.com/perennials/dianthus.html; and in Australia: Australian Seeds: https://australianseed.com.au/search?type=product&q=Dianthus*.
Full Sun, at least 6 hours a day. Dianthus love clean air and open skies and perish in polluted conditions or when grown in the shade of overhanging trees. Scottish weavers, who bred and named 3,000 laced pinks in the 18th and 19th century, lost most of their plants, when the air quality deteriorated in the Industrial Revolution.
Light well-drained moist soil, though they will tolerate poorer soils. Drainage is important, as they will develop stem rot in water-logged soils, so if your soil is heavy clay, they are better grown in pots or raised beds. Only water one a week at most, otherwise the foliage will yellow. Be careful with using mulch to suppress weeds and avoid crowding the crown (top of the roots) or stem rot will occur.
Soil pH: Neutral to slightly alkaline. 6.75 is ideal. Soil alkalinity can be increased with the addition of dolomitic limestone or fire ash.
Feeding: Dianthus are light feeders and only need an occasional feed (a shovel of compost in the soil once a year), as well as a light annual dressing of dolomite lime to prevent the centre of the clumps dying out. Even the perennial pinks are short-lived, so they will need renewing every 3 to 4 years. It is worth taking a few cuttings every year to ensure the survival of your plants over Winter.
Otherwise, they are very low-maintenance, only requiring deadheading after flowering to promote reblooming. There are few pests and diseases. Spider mite can be a problem during hot dry weather for Sweet William and carnations, while the latter and Dianthus chinensis and hybrids can be susceptible to thrips and aphids as well, but the old-fashioned pinks are pretty hardy and healthy.Propagation:
By seed, cuttings or layering.
Cuttings: Two methods:
Pulling a leafy stem with a heel and cutting off any buds; or
Cutting a 5 to 7.5 cm non-flowering stem just below the node.
Insert the cutting into a 50/50 mix of grit and compost or sharp sand and peat or merely damp horticultural sand and place the seed tray or pot in the shade, keeping the cuttings damp.
New plants will form at six to eight weeks and can be planted out in a well-drained open position in Autumn for flowering the following season or kept in the greenhouse over Winter and planted out after the last frost.
When planting, make sure the crown (top of the root structure) is level with the soil surface and never bury any of the stems.Uses:
Low perennial borders; Potted displays; Rockeries and alpine troughs; Heirloom cottage gardens; Cutting gardens; and Butterfly and hummingbird gardens.
Dianthus are the food plants for the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including Cabbage Moths; Double-striped Pugs; Large Yellow Underwings; and the Lychnis, as well as three species of Coleophora: C. dianthi; C. diantivora; and C. musculella, which feeds exclusively on Dianthus superbus.
They are also deer-resistant, but unfortunately not rabbit-resistant!
Dianthus, with its naming as ‘Flower of the Gods’, has a long history of use in floristry, with carnations also known as the Flower of Love. There are around 300 species, however there are only 50 to 60 types commercially grown for cut flowers. Their flower meanings vary with colour:
Light Red: Admiration
Dark Red: Love and Affection
White: Purity of Love and Good Luck
Yellow Disappointment and Rejection
Striped: Regret and Refusal.
While often used for Mother’s Day and funerals, carnations have also been used for other significant days. A red carnation is a symbol of socialism and the labour movement, commonly worn at demonstrations like International Worker’s Day (May Day) and was worn in the 1974 coup d’etat of the Estado Novo regime in Portugal, while a green carnation was seen as a symbol of homosexuality in the early 20th century, but are now used for St Patrick’s Day.
These days, carnations are often grown under glass, with Colombia being the largest producer in the world.
Pinks are often used in nosegays and tussie-mussies.
When buying carnations, look for bunches with clean, undamaged petals, which are not curling inwards. Sims and sprays are sold half-open; Chinnies (D. chinensis) and Sweet William more open, the latter when one quarter to one half of the flowers are open.
Recut 2 to 3 cm from the stem ends on the diagonal just above the node, strip any leaves which would be underwater and use preservative in the vase water. They should last 2 to 3 weeks, so long as the water and preservative are changed every 3 to 4 days. Wear gloves when handling as the sap from the stem is poisonous.
To dry them, either hang the flowers in bunches or pull the petals from the flower head and spread over brown paper.Culinary: The flowers can be used fresh in salads and desserts or candied, with or without the slightly bitter white heel of the petals removed, and as a flavouring in syrups, cordials, vinegars, liqueurs and mulled wine. In medieval times, when cloves were expensive, wines and possets were often flavoured with clove-scented gillyflowers. They can also be frozen into ice cubes and added to your favourite drink, or stirred into desserts such as fruit jellies, ice-cream, mousse, soufflés, custard and cakes. Once dried, petals can also be added to sugar to sweetly scent it.
Aromatic: The dried petals can be added to potpourris and scented laundry sachets. Flowers can also be used in perfumery. Carnation oil is used in beauty products to moisturize skin, minimize wrinkles and treat skin conditions.
Medicinal: Carnation tea has been used to reduce stress, relieve tension and restore energy; reduce fever; and treat stomach aches, heartburn and flatulence. Chinese Pinks D. chinensis have been used in Chinese herbal medicine for over 2000 years.
I have learnt so much about pinks during my research for this post and look forward to expanding my collection! For other devotees of pinks and carnations, another wonderful site is: http://www.britishnationalcarnationsociety.co.uk.
I am finishing with my latest cushion cover design, inspired by the beautiful clove pink varieties described in this post and all available from Allwoods Nursery, except when otherwise specified. From left to right and top to bottom: Plumarius (age unknown); Sugar Plum (Whetman Pinks Scent First series); Coconut Sundae (also Whetman Pinks Scent First series); Anders Melody 2010; Gran’s Favourite 1966; Old Velvet (very old- age unknown); Dad’s Favourite 1800; Fair Folly 1700; and Kesteven Kirkstead 1988. I am giving it to my Mum for her birthday, complete with a card identifying all the different varieties depicted in their position on the cushion.Please note that their depiction on my felt cushion were not supposed to be, and definitely are not, photographically accurate representations! The photos were more a starting point for design, hence the depiction of Plumarius and the even more absract representations of Coconut Sundae; Gran’s Favourite and Dad’s Favourite! I loved stitching their beautiful pinked forms. The only thing missing is the scent!Next week, I am featuring my favourite calligraphy books.