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Elegant Carnations and Pinks

You can grow carnations and pinks almost anywhere, provided you give them a well drained position and plenty of sun.

You can grow carnations and pinks almost anywhere, provided you give them a well drained position and plenty of sun.

Few flowers can rival the carnation’s beauty and sweet scent, and the home gardener has many varieties of this popular perennial to choose from

Carnations are among the most elegant of flowers, their ruffled blooms contributing to a popularity rivalled by few other plants. Their variety of colour adds beauty to any garden, and they are excellent as cut flowers. Until very recently, a carnation in the button‑hole was the hallmark of the well‑dressed man.

The word carnation is thought to be derived from the Latin corona, meaning a crown or garland. The name dates from the time when the ancient Romans wore crowns made out of these flowers during festivals.

Carnations, along with pinks and sweet williams, belong to the genus Dianthus. They are divided into two types: border carnations and perpetual-flowering carnations.

Border carnations were popular in Europe as long ago as the 16th century, but it was not until the late 19th century that the perpetual‑flowering variety began to be developed by horticulturists in the United States.

Border carnations are hardy perennials and flower once a year, during summer.

The blooms are large and some may grow up to 9cm across. They are borne on stout stems which must be carefully staked.

The flowers differ from perpetual-flowering carnations in that the petals are not serrated on the edges, but are smooth and flat.

There are four main types of border carnation: selfs, fancies, cloves, and picotees.

Selfs have flowers of one colour. There are varieties in almost every colour except blue.

Fancies have a single‑colour background with stripes or bars in contrasting colours.

Cloves are not confined to any particular colour‑scheme, but are distinguished by their scent, which resembles the aromatic spice — hence their name.

Picotees have a ground colour of white or yellow and a regular margin on the edge of every petal of rose, scarlet, or purple. There is no additional colour on the white or yellow part.

The perpetual‑flowering carnation — the kind generally seen in florists’ shops — is a perennial which usually remains at its best for about three or four years in the same position. It produces flowers for cutting throughout the year and does not need very high temperatures to flower in winter. The blooms are double, with serrated or round petals, and are often fragrant.

Pinks are not as easy to define as carnations. They are dainty plants with long, slender stems, bearing flattish flower heads, which resemble a sirnplified version of the carnation.

The old‑fashioned pink is not widely grown today because it has fewer flowers than the modern pink. In the first year the plant has only one central stem, with side growths producing flowers a year later, in early summer.

The modern pinks grow faster and produce many more blooms than the older variety, flowering first in early summer and then again in autumn.

They must be propagated more often than the old‑fashioned pinks, however — normally every two or three years.

One marking which is only found in pinks is the laced pink, in which the dark zone (or eye) at the base of each petal is extended in a band around the petal near the edge. The remainder of the petal — the ground colour — is white, creamy‑white, or pink. The flower as a whole thus has a dark centre with a surround of dark rings.

Carnations and pinks are well known for their tolerance to alkaline soil, but they also grow well in a wide range of other soils, provided they are well drained and not too acid.

You can grow carnations and pinks almost anywhere, provided you give them a well‑drained position and plenty of sun.

Future posts will deal with ‘Growing border carnations’, ‘Modern pinks, how to grow and increase them’, ‘Old fashioned pinks’ and ‘Growing perpetual flowering carnations’ — so come back to this section regularly.