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Dianthus - The Garden Pink - 1/15/2015
by Jim Becker

Dianthus - The Garden Pink

'Queen Of Sheba'            'Gloriosa'                 'Inchmery'                   'Laced Romeo'

Dianthus are among our most favorite plants. Often called Garden Pinks, Their beguiling flower petals may be delicately fringed or ruffled, mostly in light shades of white, pink, and rose. Flecks, edges, or rings of darker colors add to their beauty. And the spicy-sweet fragrance is among the best of all flowers. The narrow leaves form neat mounds of greenish blue and the plants are perfectly suited in a rockery or as an edging. So highly regarded were they by the ancient Greeks that they gave them their name Dianthus, which means ‘Flower of Zeus’, or ‘Divine Flower’.

They grow best in full sun and a fast draining, slightly alkaline soil. They like even moisture; not too wet or dry. Little attention is needed other than deadheading, light shaping, and a bit of well balanced fertilizer in spring. Plants in hot, humid areas are best divided every few years to prevent rotting.

Dianthus hybridize readily and have been bred for many centuries. They reached their zenith of popularity in Britain in the mid-1800’s, when it was common for nurseries to list hundreds of varieties. Most of our garden varieties have descended from just 3 of the nearly 300 species: Dianthus caryophyllus (the carnations), Dianthus barbatus (the Sweet Williams), and Dianthus plumarius (the garden pinks), with much interbreeding between them. We have always favored the garden pinks for their true perennial nature, cold hardiness, and winsome charm. No cottage garden pathway would be complete unless there were patches of garden pinks drifting lazily across the stones and the air was laden with their lovely fragrance.

How Pinks Got Their Name

Since many Garden Pinks are pink in color, one would assume that is how they got their name. Not so. In fact, it is the other way round. The term ‘pink’ for the plant was used first in print in 1573 by Thomas Tusser. Its derivation is a matter of speculation. One suggestion is that it comes from the Celtic word ‘pic’, meaning ‘peak’, and refers to the fringe of teeth on the petals. Pink as a name for the color did not come into general usage until nearly 250 years later, likely because of the flowers named pinks.

A Few More Names

The old British name for the Dianthus was gillyflower, which was derived from the French for ‘clove scented flower’. This name went through several transformations, including gillyfor and gillofloure. Another common name was sops-in-wine, which shows its old usage as a flavoring for wine (and beer).

“Of all flowres, save the Damaske Rose, they are the most

pleasant to sight and smell: their use is much in ornament and

comforting the spirites by the sence of smelling.”

William Lawson, 1618

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