Few groups of flowers have known as many centuries of popularity as the Dianthus. Introduced from France in the early fourteenth century, by the late 1500s they were among the most popular of all flowering plants. Very much in vogue during the Middle Ages, rents were paid with them and royalty had their portraits painted with them.
The seventeenth century saw the beginnings of much more deliberate dianthus breeding and in the next two centuries, hundreds of cultivars became commercially available. The breeding of Dianthus has, in Europe today, remained a serious passion.
Dianthus plumarius, often referred to as the Feathered Pink, Garden Pink or Cottage Pink have lent their charm to European cottage gardens since the Middle Ages. They bloom with pert flowers, like little eyes, which also come informally semi-double and voluptuously double. They have a delicious perfume, clove like in some cultivars, a light fresh jasmine scent in others. Radiantly bright, these flowers would be eye-catching even if they didn't lure you in by the nose first, their sweet floral scent is absolutely irresistible.
This hardy perennial grows up to 30cm (12in) tall and as wide. The sturdy foliage forms a compact cushion of evergreen, grey-green foliage, which are decorative even when the plants are not flowering. It is perfect as an edging plant, or at the front-of-the-border, in the rock garden or for containers. Often used as a fast growing ground cover plant, it makes a good erosion-prevention plant on slopes and banks.
The plants prefer a position in full sunshine with good soil drainage, but other than that is quite unfussy about conditions. It blooms for a long period between late spring and autumn and requires minimal aftercare, simply trim lightly after flowering to maintain a tight, compact mound and to encourage new growth.
Dianthus plumarius ‘Spring Beauty’ bloom with large informally semi-double and voluptuously double, 4 to 5cm (1½ to 2in) wide blooms. The petals are usually toothed or fringed, sometimes smooth-edged, sometimes deeply cut and lacinated are held atop 15 to 20cm (6 to 8in) slim stems, singly or in loose clusters. The fragrant blooms are enthusiastically produced in succession from late spring to late summer.
As you might expect, colours drift through the pinkish range, but also appear in white, cream, rose, red, scarlet, burgundy, magenta and lilac. Some have contrasting edges, stippling, or central eyes, or a contrasting colour on the reverse of the petals.
Bees and butterflies adore them and the petals of Dianthus are edible. Not terribly filling but they will prove to be the most magical of ingredients, turning a green salad into a flowery mead and a scoop of ice-cream into a fairy castle.
Perfect for use as a cut flower for romantic bouquets. In a small jug or vase, the flowers will pour forth their fragrance indoors for as long as a week.
Sowing: Sow February to June or September to October.
Sow seed on the surface of a good, free-draining, damp seed or multipurpose compost. Do not cover the seeds as light aids germination, but tightly press into the compost.
Place the container in a propagator or seal inside a polythene bag and place at 16 to 20°C (60 to 68°F). Germination usually takes 14 to 30 days. Keep in cooler conditions after germination occurs. Transplant to 9cm (3in) pots to grow on and transplant outdoors once the plant is established. Overwinter September sowings in a coldframe and plant out the following spring.
Most dianthus species and cultivars require full sun for their best flowering. They do best in neutral to alkaline soil that drains well. Dianthus do not tolerate wet soil well, particularly in winter so don't plant them in a low spot where water collects and keep mulch away from the plants. Overwatering and heavy clay soils are the kiss of death, quickly killing the plants from stem rot.
Mix in plenty of well-rotted organic matter when planting and apply a balanced liquid fertiliser once a month throughout spring and summer. Pinching out faded blooms with finger and thumb will encourage a second flush of flowers. Shear back the mounding ones to encourage repeated blooming.
Production for Cut Flowers:
Harvest Dianthus flowers when they are almost fully open - not in bud. Picking when the buds are too tight may result in the perfume not developing fully. Snap the stem at a node (joint) close to the base of the plant. If the stems are tough it is preferable to cut the flowers with scissors or a knife to avoid damaging the plant and thereby reducing the risk of disease entering wounds caused by careless picking.
Ensure the plants are regularly fed throughout the flowering season using a rose or tomato 1:1:2 fertiliser. Watering is preferable at ground level rather than overhead which may damage the blooms. Some varieties may take a six-week rest after the first flush of flower but after feeding and watering they will start again. This way you should be able to have a continuous harvest of blooms for cutting from the end of April until the end of September.
The petals of Dianthus are edible. Not terribly filling but they will prove to be the most magical of ingredients, turning a green salad into a flowery mead and a scoop of ice-cream into a fairy castle.
Dianthus flowers have a pleasant spicy, floral, clove-like taste, especially the more fragrant varieties, and are ideal for decorating or adding to cakes. They 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, and can also be used as a flavouring for sugar, oils and vinegars.
Pick young flowers and buds on dry mornings, before the sun becomes too strong, so the colour and flavours will be intense. As on many flowers, it is advisable to remove the white heel at the base of the petal as this has a bitter taste.
Cottage/Informal/Natural Garden, Borders and Beds, Dry Gardens and Rockeries.
The origin of Dianthus plumarius are the calcareous mountains of Central Europe from Italy to Poland.
They were probably introduced to Britain in the early fourteenth century from France. The easy hybridisation of this species led to numerous varieties. In the Middle Ages, rents were paid with them, and royalty had their portraits painted with them. By the late 1500s, they were among the most popular flowering plants for containers, as they are in Europe today.
The seventeenth century saw the beginnings of much deliberate dianthus breeding in England; in the next two centuries, hundreds of cultivars became commercially available, including the feathered or ‘starre’ pinks, with very frilly petals and a pink eye; the ‘pheasant’s eye’ pinks, with a dark central blotch and a soft band of colour along the jagged petal margins; and the ‘laced’ pinks, fully double flowers with strong colour at the margin and base of each petal.
The breeding of dianthus remained far more serious a passion in England. In Britain, regional societies of amateur and professional plant breeders vied with one another to produce pinks that conformed to show standards as stringent as those the rose societies levy on hybrid teas today. By the 1850s, the British considered pinks a national flower with many sentimental associations. In the Victorian language of flowers, pinks speak of pure affection. Dianthus travelled to North America with the English colonists, where breeding became the rage in the United States during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The genus is now thought to embrace some 300 species and innumerable hybrids and selections.
Dianthus was named by Greek botanist, Theophrastus. He named them from the Greek dios meaning ‘divine’ and anthos ‘flower’, meaning ‘God’s flower’.
The species name plumarius means plume, for its fringed petals.
They are commonly referred to as the Feathered Pink, Garden Pink or Cottage Pink.
Many Dianthus are called 'pinks.' Not due to their colour which can also be white, but to the distinct cut edge that the flowers have. The verb 'pink' dates from the 14th century and means 'to decorate with a perforated or punched pattern' (maybe from German 'picken' = to peck), coming from the frilled edge of the flowers. This verb sense is also used in the name of pinking shears.
Interestingly, the colour pink may be named after the dianthus flower.
The word ‘carnation’ is derived from the Latin word coronae, meaning 'coronations'. Coronations were decorative, woven flower strings worn on the head like a headband that are often pictured as being worn by young maidens.
The genus Dianthus consists of over 300 species, including the well-known Carnations and Sweet Williams, several hundred named cultivars and innumerable hybrids.
- D. barbatus, known as Sweet William, this is a biennial plant that sometimes behaves as a short lived perennial. At 45 to 60cm (18 to 24in) tall, it blooms in a wide range of fragrant coloured blossoms and as such has been a garden favourite for over 300 years.
- D. caryophyllus, the ancestor of most of the modern garden carnations. When you see a perennial carnation in your local garden centre, it is most often from this species.
- D. chinensis are the China Pinks. Varieties are often sold in garden centers as perennials although many are not reliably hardy in cold areas. They can be treated as hardy annuals unless you live in a warm zone.
- D. deltoides is a common plant in garden centers because of the ease of starting it from seed. Use it at the front of the border or in gravel or rock gardens.
- D. grataniapolitensis or Cheddar Pink grows to 30cm (12in) and is a delightfully fragrant soft pink colour.
- D. knappii is called the Yellow Pink. At 60cm (24in) tall with soft yellow flowers that bloom for several long weeks, it is worth a place in any garden.
- D. plumarius is the plant most often referred to as a 'Pink' and is a good performing plant. They are shorter than many types of Dianthus so plant them in rock garden sites or protected from aggressive plants in the border.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 1 gram Average Seed Count 650 Seeds Seeds per gram 650 seeds / gram Family Caryophyllaceae Genus Dianthus Species plumarius Cultivar Spring Beauty Common Name Feathered Pink, Garden Pink or Cottage Pink Other Language Names Fr: Oeillet magnifique Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy Hardy to minus 30°C (-22°F) Flowers Informally semi-double and voluptuously double flowers in mixed colours Natural Flower Time From late spring to early autumn Foliage Low mounds of deep green foliage Height 30cm (12in) Position Full sun for best flowering Soil A wide range of soils provided they are well drained. Time to Sow February to June or September to October. Germination 14 to 30 days at 16 to 20°C (60 to 68°F).