Colour My World with Dianthus
By Penny Ossowski
Mum always grew the most beautifully scented carnations when I was young and they were so easy to grow from slips collected from family and friends. I grew some once or twice but as I recall they rotted off at the bottom but now it is time to try them again.
There are over 300 species of Dianthus. They are native to various parts of Asia, Europe and North Africa. The Dianthus group of flowers include Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus), Pinks (Dianthus plumarius) and Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus). All like well drained, slightly alkaline soil with a pH 6.75 and grow best in full sun. The name Dianthus comes from 2 Greek words "dios", referring to the god Zeus, and "anthos", meaning flower, therefore the name means ‘Flowers of God’. Different varieties grow between 5cm and 1m tall, flowering between Spring and Autumn. Don’t mulch close to the base of these plants as they are susceptible to collar rot and rust. All varieties of Dianthus will also grow well in containers and pots.
Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) are native to Eurasia and have a beautiful spicy clove-like fragrance. They are perennials which are often grown as annuals in very cold or very humid climates. Carnations can be grown from seed, cuttings, slips and layering. If growing from seeds the colour can be pot luck. I was taught to grow them from slips (shoots taken from leaf nodes). Slips were pinched out, the tops of leaves shortened to about 4cm, then put into the garden bed and a glass jar was put over them like a miniature green house and before you knew it they were growing. I remember when buying stems of carnations always looking for the ones that had healthy looking slips we could plant and when visiting friends always getting slips of their carnations.
However you start your carnations nip out the growing shoot when it is about 15cm high, then repeat again with the next lot of shoots to make your plant bushier and have more flowering shoots. Different colours have different meanings but for me the colour doesn’t matter it is their scent I love.
If their soil is too wet their leaves will yellow and they can die, make sure they have good air circulation around their stems. They will tolerate hot weather but don’t like it to be humid.
Pinks (Dianthus plumarius) are commonly referred to as Dianthus. They can be grown from seeds, layering or cuttings and should be planted in Autumn or Spring and will thrive in most soil types with added organic material with some extra lime. These grow from 15 to 45cm tall, depending on variety. Very few modern varieties have perfume.
Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) native to the mountains of southern Eurasia and were well known for their sweet spicy, clove-like scent. They were probably named after a royal William but it is unsure which one. They can be grown from seed, cuttings or division but seed is the most popular and they will self-seed. Deadheading will increase flowering and flowers are edible.
I am sure you have room for at least one variety of ‘Dianthus’ in your garden.
You can buy Heirloom varieties of Dianthus seed online from Eden Seeds.