Sweet Williams are one of those lovely old-fashioned flowers. Easy to grow traditional cottage garden plants that are famous for their spicy-scent.
The Auricula-eyed Group are irresistible. With low mounds of grass-like foliage, the vivid green stems are topped with dense, flat clusters of flowers with fringed petals in patchwork colours, dark tapestry rubies, fuchsia, scarlet, purple and white each with an attractive eye.
Sweet Williams make a long-lasting, fragrant cut flower, and are an excellent choice for dried flower arrangements. Best of all, they are intensely fragrant, with a delicious, rich perfume. Growing to around 45cm (18in) tall they belong in the middle ground of the flower border. They are also a wonderful plant for containers, mass plantings and meadows.
Dianthus barbatus are short lived perennials that are often grown as a biennial. They will grow in most soils and grow equally well in full sun or part shade. Insects and diseases do not frequent the plants. Everybody can grow them to perfection.
Sowing: Sow seeds in late spring to early summer.
Dianthus barbatus is a biennial that is sown late spring to early summer and flowers in May to June the year after sowing. The flowers need exposure to cool conditions to initiate flower buds. Seeds can be sown either out-doors or for an earlier crop in unheated glasshouse or polythene tunnel and when large enough transplanted to where they are to flower. Seeds germinate in 2 to 3 weeks at around 12 to 15°C (54 to 59°F).
Prepare the area by removing stones and weeds and rake to a fine tilth. Sow the seeds very thinly 6mm (¼in) in drills 30cm (12in) apart. Cover with only a fine sprinkling of soil. Water well and keep the soil damp until germination takes place. Thin out the seedlings to 15cm (6in) when large enough to handle. Replant the thinnings to other areas.
For an earlier crop seeds can either be sown into a seed bed or sown into modules or pots. Sow thinly and cover the seeds with only a fine sprinkling of soil or vermiculite. Water well and place modules or pots outdoors in a coldframe or a cold greenhouse.
In October or the following March they can be transplanted to where they are to flower. When transplanting to a bed or border, use a trowel to dig an individual hole for each plant, deep enough to submerge the root ball and keep the base of the stem at soil level. Position your plant and fill the hole back in. Gently firm down and water in. Leave a 15cm (6in) space between plants.
Dianthus will grow in most soils, but prefer slightly alkaline, fairly rich, well draining soil. Poor drainage will kill the plants. Mix in a general garden fertiliser before planting out.
They prefer full sun in all but the hottest areas, where it should be given part shade. It does best in cooler weather, but given the right conditions it will survive a hot summer.
Over-watering Dianthus causes foliage to turn yellow. Dead-heading and a light feeding with a 10-10-10 fertiliser every eight weeks will increase blooms. Unless the weather is extremely dry, one thorough weekly watering (about 2.5cm / 1 inch) is sufficient. Weed around the plants as weeds will compete for nutrients and water. Apply a layer of mulch once the plants are established.
Cottage/Informal/Natural Garden, Borders and Beds. Cut Flowers, Edible Flowers.
Cut Sweet Williams typically last 14 to 21 days in a vase, sometimes longer if looked after. They are one of the real 'value for money' flowers.
For longevity, ensure the water is changed frequently. This will also ensure that the water doesn’t become cloudy. A drop of bleach in the water will help to keep it smelling sweet.
Trim the ends, cut above the node at an angle every three days to ensure longevity of your flower.
If the bloom is not fully open, it can be ‘flicked’ open, by lightly flicking open the petals from the top of the flower.
The flowers of Dianthus deltoides, Maiden Pinks are edible, most have a pleasant spicy, floral, clove-like taste, especially the more fragrant varieties, and are ideal for decorating or adding to cakes. They’ll also make a colourful garnish to soups, salads and the punch bowl.
The petals add zest to ice cream, sorbets, salads, fruit salad, dessert sauces, seafood and stir-fries. It is advisable to remove the white heel at the base of the petal as this has a bitter taste. The colours are vivid and the effect when tossed among fresh salad leaves, is transforming. Suddenly a plain salad looks like a show-stopper.
Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William) is a species of Dianthus native to the mountains of southern Europe from the Pyrenees east to the Carpathians and the Balkans, with a variety disjunct in northeastern China, Korea, and southeastern most Russia.
It is a biennial that belongs to the Dianthus family Caryophyllaceae, which also includes Carnations and Pinks. There are over 300 species of Dianthus, and hundreds more of hybrid varieties. The group includes annuals, biennials and perennials. Although cultivars of Sweet William are available in many colours, the wild plant has red flowers with a white base.
Dianthus was named by Greek botanist, Theophrastus. He named them Dianthus from the Greek dios, ‘divine’ and anthos ‘flower’, meaning ‘God’s flower’.
The species name barbatus is a word of Latin origin meaning ‘bearded’ and refers to the markings that surround the entrance to the pollen that the plant employs to entice butterflies and moths to pollinate them.
Many legends purport to explain how Sweet William acquired its common name, but none is verified. The English botanist John Gerard referred to Dianthus barbatus as Sweete Williams in his garden catalogue of 1596, It is often speculated that the flower was named after Gerard's contemporary, William Shakespeare, but this would seem unlikely. It is also said to be named after Saint William of York or after William the Conqueror.
Another common name for Dianthus is Pink or Pinks. The precise origin is uncertain; perhaps from the notion of the petals being pinked or jagged, from Middle English pinken meaning 'to make figures'.
Another etymological derivation could be that the word is shortened from pink-eye, from the Dutch pinck oogen meaning 'small or half-closed eyes' (compare also the French œillet), from Dutch pincken, meaning 'to shut the eyes, twinkle or wink'.
The Language of Flowers
On April 29, 2011 Catherine (Kate) Middleton, now officially known as Her Royal Highness Princess William Arthur Philip Louis, Duchess of Cambridge, married her Prince (William) at Westminster Abbey in London.
The flowers used in royal wedding bouquets are steeped in tradition, history and meaning. Kate’s bouquet was by no means lavish or over the top, and paid homage to the traditional language of flowers and traditional British flowers. In tribute to her new husband, her royal wedding bouquet contained pure white Sweet Williams.
The traditional eight-tiered fruit cake, designed by Fiona Cairns, was decorated with cream and white icing. It featured 900 individually iced flowers, including the national flowers of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as myrtle, to symbolise love, and Sweet William.
In the Victorian language of flowers Sweet William represent Gallantry.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 1 gram Average Seed Count 900 Seeds Genus Dianthus Species barbatus Cultivar Auricula-eyed Mix Synonym D. barbatus auriculaeflora (Auricula-eyed), Common Name Poet's Pink, Sweet John, Sweet William Hardiness Hardy Biennial Flowers Mixed Colours - Ruby, fuchsia, scarlet, purple and white Natural Flower Time Late spring to early summer – May to July Foliage Low mounds of grass-like foliage Height 45cm (18in) Spread 15cm (6in) Position Full sun or part shade Soil Will grow in most soils, but prefer slightly alkaline, fairly rich, well draining soil. Time to Sow Sow late spring to early summer Germination 2 to 3 weeks at around 12 to 15°C (54 to 59°F).