I’ve always been impressed by the Dianthus family of plants and this year, it looks like I’m going to be able to indulge myself a little. The word pink likely comes to us from the Dutch term for the plant “pinkster” or the German “Pfingsten” for Pentecost, which is when the plant blooms.
The genus Dianthus is found naturally in the Mediterranean, Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor and it goes by such common names as carnation, pinks, Sweet Williams, and cheddar pinks.
The Perennial Plant Association has named ‘Firewitch’ as its plant of the year for 2006. This little gem, more properly called Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Feurhexe’ (Firewitch in English) is quite hardy in our area.
Dianthus ‘Coconut Punch’ from Proven Winners
In fact, you could live up in a zone 3 garden and it would still be fine. When you put one in your rock garden or front of the border this spring, do plant it in full sun in a well-drained soil.
Clay soils will kill it over the winter with excessive moisture.
If you have a rock wall, insert this plant into a crevice and you’ll be delighted with the result as long as you water it well for the first two months while the roots are finding a hold in the soil behind the wall and finding their own moisture.
‘Like most of the Dianthus family, you do not want to mulch this plant. The extra water held in the soil by the mulch will most definitely rot away the roots.
Do not cut it back in the fall or you’ll be killing the plant.
Getting More Blooms
The real trick here is to cut the plant back by one-third after it flowers to encourage new growth and a fall bloom.
The initial bloom is late spring or early summer for a month to six weeks and the pruning will encourage a late summer bloom.
‘Firewitch’ has a clove-like fragrance and while it only grows 3-4 inches tall, it will spread out to 12 inches in width. It is considered an evergreen perennial as the foliage will not die back to the ground in the fall but remain for the winter.
If you purchase one plant this spring, you can easily propagate it yourself by taking tip or heel cuttings or even layering a longish stem.
Dianthus ‘Black Cherry Wild’ from Proven Winners
There are almost too many of these great plants (and more coming every year) to begin describing. Here are a few to look for.
Dianthus gratianopolitanus is known as a cheddar pink – named after the Cheddar Gorge in southwest England where it grows wild There are new varieties of this appearing yearly. All are heavy bloomers.,
. Other great Dianthus for the rock garden include D. deltoides and its mat-forming varieties that are easily found in local garden centres. Called the ‘Maiden Pink’ this plant blooms in the early summer and is quite hardy if grown as above in the full sun and well-drained soils of the rock garden.
You’ll see varieties such as ‘Zing Rose’ with rose-red flowers, ‘Zing Salmon’ with salmon-pink flowers and a very long bloom time, and ‘Brilliant’ with its bright cherry blossoms and tough-to-kill attitude. Generally, this plant is only a few inches tall but will spread out at maturity to a mat that is 24 inches wide.
There are some other hybrid Dianthus that are equally at home in the rock garden or front of the border.
These include ‘Little Boy Blue’ with its steel blue foliage and single white with a pink eye blossoms. This plant grows 6-8 inches tall so it can go in the front of the perennial border as well as rock gardens and containers.
A somewhat taller hybrid is ‘Mountain Mist’ at 8-12 inches tall. This one has dusty-rose flowers, excellent blue-toned foliage but it is one of the hardiest heat-tolerant plants in this family. If you have a hot spot in the rock garden, this plant will be at home.
I’ve grown ‘Neon Star’ and this 6-8 inch tall plant with magenta-pink blooms can be seen across the widest city garden.
‘Royal Midget’ is, as you might expect from the name, a dwarf variety with a tight mound of blue-green leaves and semi-double pink flowers. This is an excellent plant for the rock garden or rock garden trough container.
‘Spotty’ is an older variety with single cherry-red flowers with a contrasting white eye.
‘Velvet and Lace’ will win your heart with its smallish double, maroon flowers that have lacy white edges. If you want to grow a slightly taller plant, you might look at some of the
Dianthus barbatus hybrids.
These Sweet Williams are considered biennial but once established in the sunny garden they will self-sow and produce plants year after year.
There is a ‘Dwarf Double Mix’ that sometimes is available in garden shops that will be appropriate for the rock garden with its wide range of colours and flower forms that range from singles to doubles.
Selected hybrids include: ‘Newport Pink’ a deep salmon pink that is excellent for cutting and the ‘Nigrescens’ group with its maroon to blackish flowers carried over bronze foliage.
Unlike the other plants mentioned here, these will not flower a second time if pruned back so allow the flowers to set seed for subsequent years. After the flower heads are well and truly brown, you can spread the seed where you want the plants to grow.
These are simple perennial flowers to grow if you give them what they want in the way of sun and well-drained soils. The only caution is that there are so many good varieties you might find yourself collecting them. This can lead to hortiholica- an incurable condition of trying to find and grow every plant in the world. Good luck.