There are lots of dianthus at Roche Fleurie, both species and cultivated varieties. We like them very much and, perhaps more to the point, they like the garden with its basic well-drained soil.
From a botanical point of view, there are many species and cultivars of dianthus, but for a gardener's purposes, there are basically three kinds: the pinks, the Maiden pinks and the Sweet Williams. Carnations are, of course, dianthus, but they really are grown as cut flowers and are not adapted to growing as a border plant.
Most dianthus bloom in late spring, roughly at the same time as peonies, but for a longer period. Dianthus are not only attractive, but also very fragrant, very hardy (some survive in zone 2) and low maintenance plants.
|Assortment of pinks|
Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) are the most straight forward of the lot in the sense that they vary little compared to the others in the tribe. There is not even much difference between the double and single flower varieties.
They grow best in some shade, are biennial and have a fine clove-like fragrance. You plant them one year, and they flower the following year. They die after they have bloomed.
Many people will swear that their Sweet Williams are perennial, that theirs have bloomed over many years. What happens is that their plants simply reseed themselves. The blooms grow in clusters at the end of stems.
They are quite tough. I have seen some bloom on abandoned homesteads where no one had taken care of them for decades. The ones below have just jumped the garden fence and settled in the field. When they "go wild", each plant produces only a few flowers, but they continue to self-seed year after year, competing with the grass.
Sweet Williams bloom after the pinks (perhaps because they are usually grown in some shade). To make sure you always have some nice ones, you should buy new seeds every year. You can save your own seeds and plant them, but over time the flowers will tend to be all the same color (as in the picture below as opposed to the picture above).
|Dianthus "gone wild" fighting its place among the weeds|
The second kind, the Maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoides), are shorter than Sweet Williams and form a mat of small flowers. Like pinks, they prefer alkaline, well drained soil, but unlike pinks they will put up with some shade. They are perennial and come back year after year. In fact they will selfseed, and new patches will appear along the old ones.
|Close up of Maiden pinks, above is 'Arctic Fire' below one of numerous varieties that have hybridized on their own in the garden|
|Maiden pinks that have self seeded|
The pinks, or Cottage pinks (Dianthus species and hybrids) are sun lovers. They do not do well in shade. At Roche Fleurie their heights vary from the very small to plants that reach about 1 foot (30 cm). Apparently they even get taller.
|Two varieties of pinks|
The flowers are usually single, but many named varieties have double flowers which look like miniature carnations (as is the case with 'Tiny Rubies' below).
|Cheddar pink 'Tiny Rubies'|
Pinks can be any color between white, pink and red, but, as you might have guessed, they are mostly pink! There is one exception, the Amur River pink (see below) which is almost blue.They also tend to crossbreed a lot. I have grown 4 or 5 times, from seeds received from rock garden societies seed exchanges, the variety 'La Bourboule'. Since none of the plants that came up were the same, I presume they had hybridized in the gardens where the seeds were grown.
I include in the pinks all the species although some of them have a slightly different look.
|Buns in a trough|
Pinks tend to make a symmetrical dome. When they grow quite densely, they produce tight little clumps that rock gardeners call buns. Most of them also have a strong, beautiful fragrance.
|Two more varieties of pinks|
|"Fancy" dianthus, the bottom variety is 'Velvet & Lace'|
As long as the soil is well drained, dianthus are usually disease free. To end with, on the left the first one to bloom at Roche Fleurie and on the right the last one to bloom over a month later.
|Alpine pink on the left and Amur River pink on the right|