Monday, April 26, 2010

Dianthus: Carnations, Cheddar Pinks, Sweet William, Annual Pinks

Dianthus are ancient flowers, the Gillyflower to which Shakespeare referred. Dianthus translates to 'divine form.' Among the different forms of Dianthus are Carnation D. caryophyllus which grows in dry climates, Cheddar Pinks D. gratianopolitanus, the annual China Pinks and Sweet William D. barbatus. China Pinks are cool season annuals in my climate, growing along with violas and snapdragons in the winter garden to bloom in early spring.

Bath's Pink has a strong, sweet scent.

My favorites are Cheddar Pinks, particularly Bath's Pink which tolerates our humid summers if they have excellent drainage. I root new pieces frequently as some of the older plants may melt out in our humidity when the sun is hot. Tip cuttings or heel cutting root easily. Their spicy scent carries on the breeze when they are in bloom. When bloom finishes, cutting back by a third encourages new growth but seldom do I see rebloom. Out of bloom, the bluish foliage lends color interest in a bed.

My other favorite, perhaps the one I love best is Sweet William dianthus. The name William comes from the french oillet  for eye which became Sweet Willy and then William. Colors range from white through pinks and lavenders to darkest red. The darker colors have the stronger fragrance.

Red Sweet William here with Pineapple Sage and Violas.

Pinks bridge the gap between the azalea show and May's perennials in my garden. I added pinks to a bed with pink roses. In a bed that will have blue flowers later, foliage of Bath's Pink makes a good front edge. Kept deadheaded, Sweet William lasts into the summer. They're called pinks not because of rosy colors, but because of the jagged edges that look as if they were 'pinked' with shears.

Does your garden feature Dianthus?  


  1. Around here, people use the nickname 'Cottage Pinks' for the Bath's. Mine are putting on a show right now. I was afraid of die-out in the middle because they are so thick, but they look better today. They will take over the right bank of the stream in a few years if I let them. Trying to decide--that's where I have phlox subulata on the stream side--the two could meet at the top! I do have salvia greggii, allium, grape gaillardia, lavender and poppies on top for now.

    I sowed sweet william in the fall, but no show. But, I did have torrential rains before we fixed the problem.

  2. They are very cool flowers. We added a few last year and a couple more this year. I'd like to see them reseed around a little.

  3. I love dianthus, but sometimes I can't get past the names... while Cheddar pinks are surely named for the village in England (are they?) I always think "cheese" and it puts me off. Recent echinacea introductions are called Tomato Soup and Mac n Cheese.. same reaction... ugh.

    Thank goodness for this post showing how really lovely Cheddar pinks can be!

  4. I have
    Sweet Williams only. I have been less than lucky with the others. I had a clump of Bath's Pink that I loved but it was very short lived. I just have to start new plants of the biennial Sweet Williams to have blooms each year.

    I may give Bath's a try again and take cuttings (another thing I don't do very well!)

    I love how yours looks.

  5. Sweet William is good enough to be perennial for me here, even in part shade. I also have a groundcover Dianthus deltoides 'Flashing Lights' that seeds around (seeds come true, thankfully) nicely.

    Christine in Alaska

  6. I have a few that are hanging on by a thread...too wet where they are. They were/are Feuerhexe, Fire Witch. Love the fragrance.

  7. What a crack up the plant world is. I love the name Cheddar Pinks! Makes me want to run right out and get some. The dianthus I bought at the end of the season sale last year are doing fantastic and I really love how they look :)

  8. I've never heard of cheddar pinks, but I love the name. I wonder if they would grow this far south. What do you think?

  9. I have one Pink Sweet William that was suppose to be a Bright Eyes Phlox when I sowed it. LOL! It is pretty though and I have a white Dianthus. I thought it was all dead this spring but I see a little green coming on now. I am glad because it smells divine.
    I was wondering if Dianthus were carnations but I guess there is different forms from your explanation. I know so little about plants.

  10. Gilly flowers are a favorite of mine. My grandmother grew them. Her maiden name was Gilliver, and as a child I really thought the flower was named for her.

  11. Sweet William is the only Dianthus that I'm familiar with -- hard not to luv them. I guess one could say that they are divine.


  12. Actually my Grandma has a pretty grouping of Dianthus around her birdbath. I planted them for her last fall and she adores the blooms. :)

  13. So enjoying looking at all these wonderful pictures of flowers and greenery after India!!


I look forward to comments and questions and lively discussion of gardening and related ideas.

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