Dianthus is a relatively large group of annuals and perennials which have often frilly double flowers with the common and very pleasant spicy clove scent reminiscent of weddings, prom night and other flower worthy occasions. The most commonly known of the Dianthus are the florist favorite Carnation, the easy to grow biannual Sweet Williams and the rock garden standard Cheddar Pinks. Knowing these 3 plants are only part of the 300 or so varieties of Dianthus you can easily come to the conclusion that it is indeed a varied assortment of plants ranging from ground covers to stately hothouse plants.
The Carnation ( Dianthus Caryphyllus) is arguably the most recognized of the Dianthus clan. These perennials come in two types the Border and the Florist. The Florist carnation is mostly grown commercially in hothouses for the florist trade but they are also grown outdoors in mild winter areas. The Carnation can get to 4 feet tall with blue-green leaves on stiff upright growing stems and blossoms 3 inches wide, fully double in form and highly fragrant.
These come in many colors, all shades of pink, red, orange, yellow and purple plus white, the most popular color for florists to use as they can be easily dyed to match any decor, any bridal color scheme or a prom dress. There are even some variegated types. Though not normally considered a garden plant due to its fussy nature, they can, with careful pruning and diligent staking, be an asset to any sunny perennial border with rich, well draining soil.
The equally fragrant Border Carnation blooms abundantly and grows bushier. It reaches only to 14 inches tall. The flowers are 2 – 2 and a half inches wide and come in the same array of colors as the Florist Carnation. It works well in containers and in the sunny perennial border with rich well draining soil.
For a much easier to grow Dianthus the gardener can turn to the prolific Sweet William (Dianthus Barbatus). This one is so easy to grow you can just throw down the seeds and forget all about them. They self sow like a dream so once planted you’ll never be without it if you allow them to go to seed. Sweet William, a biennial often grown as an annual, will give you tons of flowers for indoor bouquets and enough to fill even the largest garden beds with little cost. They grow 10-20 inches high with sturdy stems and flat 2-3 inch long leaves varying from light to dark green. The half inch blossoms grow in dense 3-4 inch wide clusters and come in wonderful bicolors of white, pink, red, rose and violet. Planted in wide sweeps gives a dramatic appearance to the sunny perennial bed, again with rich soil that drains well.
Maiden Pink (Dianthus Deltoides) is a hardy perennial often used as a ground cover, can tolerate part shade and likes a gritty soil like that found in rockeries.
Cheddar Pink (Dianthus Gratianopolitanus), another perennial though a short lived one, grows as a compact mound with grey-green or blue grey leaves on trailing stems which can get to a foot long and at times root along the stem. Flowers are single form and very fragrant. Great for edging and rock gardens.
Cottage Pink (Dianthus Plumarius), a staple of the cottage garden hence the name, is the oldest of the varieties, cultivated for over a hundred years as an edging plant and used for the development of many hybrids and classic cultivars.
Any one of these members of the Dianthus family would be an asset to any flower garden, rockery or perennial border. Find a place for one or two of these within your landscape and see if the lovely spicy clove scent doesn’t take you back to the first time you wore a corsage or boutonniere.
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