Pinks or dianthus are not only one of Britain’s favourite plants but highly collectable, producing some of the best, long lasting blooms in the garden, which are also prized for their delicious spicy clove-like fragrance.
Resembling a mini florist carnation, easy-care dianthus, which we call ‘pinks’ because the serrated edges to the petals look as though they have been cut with pinking shears, are tougher and will survive growing outside in all but the wettest of winters and heavy sticky clay. They can be relied on to thrive when given a sunny spot, preferably with limy soil and lots of drainage.
Classic English garden pink have a strong scent, which will fill a whole room – incredible!
There are literally thousands of cultivars that have been sought after and grown by gardeners for many hundreds of years. It’s not surprising therefore, to find that pinks, also known as Gillyflowers, have remained a stalwart of rockeries and traditional cottage borders where regular deadheading keeps them blooming until the frosts.
The predominant colour is pink or pale magenta
There are also white ‘pinks’ and there are varieties that are dark mahogany red and even yellow plus every shade of lilac pink to purple in-between. You can also choose from five-petal singles, just 1.5cm across to petal-packed doubles that definitely have the wow factor.
If you have a taste for the unusual you won’t be disappointed with the variety Neon Lace from Thompson & Morgan, which has large double fragrant carnation flowers in a creamy white edged with neon pink, which are held on 20cm stems. Use it for edging borders and growing in patio pots
The blooms are often marked with one or more colours, sometimes as concentric rings and with intricate radial patterns. There are heirloom varieties too, like the maroon-edged white Paisley Gem, which was bred and named by Scottish weavers in the 19thCentury.
In the past, pinks gave only one, impressive but short, burst of flowers in June. However, just after the First World War, Montague Allwood hybridised his pinks with perpetual carnations at his nursery in Sussex, creating Dianthus x allwoodii. The progeny of this cross start flowering in June and continue giving flushes of flowers throughout the summer and right up until when the frosts come.
There are now hundreds of modern, long-flowering varieties, many of which are available from the Allwoods nursery (allwoods.net). Doris, a salmon-pink variety with semi-double blooms, bred in 1945, is perhaps the most famous of all
Although these perennial plants are often short-lived their longevity as a ‘gardeners’ favourite’ is probably as much down to the fact that they are also easy to propagate. You simply take cuttings from non-flowering shoots anytime from May to July, insert them into trays of moist, gritty compost and keep them shaded for six to eight weeks, after which you will be able to pot up new plants.
The classic pink is Dianthus Mrs Sinkins, a Victorian cottage garden beauty, is known as the classic English garden pink. It has grey evergreen leaves and produces blowsy-looking double, white flowers with ragged edges that are pretty and have the strongest scent
There is a pink form of Mrs Sinkins and an eye-catching laced sport are also available. Unfortunately Mrs Sinkins is universally recognised amongst enthusiasts as a flawed plant due to it being a bit floppy and because it has split calyces, the flowers are always lopsided.
Of the more recent introductions, which are now turning heads, is Candy Floss. This pale pink, clove-scented double will flower at the first hint of warm weather and is ideal for lining paths. Like most pinks, it looks stunning alongside lavender, purple sage, Salvia officianalis ‘Purpurascens’ as well as the exuberant sulphur-yellow blooms of Alchemilla mollis or lady’s mantle.Pinks are good companions for roses and other traditional blooms like verbena, lavender and geraniums.
You can also use them in containers around sitting areas where it can be enjoyed for its spicy, clove-scented fragrance that wafts through the air on a balmy summer evening.Those with a floppy habit are also ideal for hanging baskets. Be careful when partnering them with strong-scented plants though, as may detract from their delicious fragrance.
Dianthus Blackjack has a unique colour combination of near black blooms, which have a punchy clover-like fragrance. With a height of 50cm, it makes a great cut flower
Popular today are Whetman’s Cocktail range of pinks. There are five richly fragrant varieties in all. These are Mojito a pure white with citrus centre, Cherry Daiqiri, which has blooms with ragged petals with a beautiful lilac blush and raspberry centre, candy floss pink coloured Shirley Temple that boasts a red central eye and Cosmopolitan that has stunning redcurrant coloured blooms with a deep cherry eye.
Admired for its peach single flower with a red edged apricot eye, Tequila Sunrise, which has edible petals that make a great garnish for cocktails too!
As it’s relatively simple to breed new pinks, lots of variations have emerged over the years and most admired by enthusiasts are the lace-edged, fancy pinks, which have beautiful markings on the petals. Many of the early varieties were incredibly popular in Victorian times and still are.
A modern variety worth growing is the clove-scented Gran’s Favourite, which is available from Thompson & Morgan
The eye-catching flowers of Gran’s Favourite have ruffled white petals with a splotch of purple-red in the centre and they are heavily laced with raspberry coloured edges. Other varieties worth seeking out are Laced Monarch, which has petunia pink petals, darkly laced in chestnut-maroon and London Brocade, which is an eye-catching, open semi-double with white petals laced and zoned in purple.
Other stand out varieties that have stood the test of time are the pre-1960 favourite Brympton Red, a Day-Glo scarlet red; Gran’s Favourite, which is white with raspberry edges and Widecombe Fair, a pale apricot cream with pink splashes that has an amazing perfume.
Mystic Star has dark maroon petals edged with white that have a sweet chocolaty fragrance!
Pinks are popularly used as border edging and in cottage gardens. The old-fashioned blooms can also be cut for the vase and will last about a week in fresh, cool water. Whetman’s Star Collection is an excellent cut flower.