Monday, July 9, 2012

God's flowers: the underappreciated pinks!

Technically I suppose these are "Zeus' flowers", since "Di-" must be the genetive plu-perfect subjunctive aorist of Zeus somehow in Ancient Greek (don't take my grammar too literally by the way)--and since Zeus was born on the Dictyan peninsula (as was my grandfather) it makes perfect sense that I am daft for pinks.

My first picture is a patch of one of innumerable hybrid Dianthus groups allied to the "Floral Lace Mix" (Dianthus x allwoodii "alpinus"), involving Dianthus chinensis, D. barbatus and probably D. alpinus. These are anathema to alpine purists, but I have to say that few plants have provided more color in my garden for longer this year than a vigorous patch of these I planted several years ago. These are usually grown as annuals, however, they have proved quite perennial in this one spot, and (letting my plantsman's guard down a tad..) I have to say that they are hard to beat!

This is much more along the lines that purists would demand: I believe this may be Dianthus erinaceus, but in an extremely vigorous and perennial form. It is almost as compact as the notoriously dense and unreliably flowered Dianthus anatolicus (mistakenly sold under other names)...but this one is easily propagated from cuttings, and sets copious seed and improves from year to year. What's not to love?

I obtained this as Dianthus brevicaulis, although I have something listed as a form of D. haematocalyx (see below). It was collected in Turkey, and has been a spectacular new cushion plant that thrives in the rock garden or in troughs, has been long lived and makes a wonderful silvery mound. What more can you want?

Perhaps you want yellow? I once saw a yellow Dianthus wild in South Africa, but Dianthus knappii  is always yellow and which is actually quite commonly available and strangely absent from gardens. The literature bad mouths this plant, saying it is floppy and has too long of stems: grown hard as it was here at the Rock Alpine Garden it is utterly delightful, blooming all of June. I find this thrives in a variety of soils and exposures, tolerating abundant water and quite dry conditions. I would not want to be without it!

Dianthus giganteus can grow four or more feet tall: here it is a mere three or so in my totally unwatered xeriscape. At my girlfriend's house it has self sown throughout her dry border, and makes a wonderful spectacle on and off all summer. This makes a great cut flower, and surely is one of the toughest of the genus. I have come to love it more: yes it is gangly, but who cares! It is perfect as a see through plant in a border, and should be better known and grown. I believe it comes from Crete: this may have been the one Zeus fell in love with, come to think of it!

This form of Dianthus haematocalyx var. pindicola is also growing in an unwatered garden. The flowers persist for only a few weeks, but they are dazzling while they are out. Another winner...

I finish with Dianthus petraeus ssp. noeanus, which I first obtained (like so many treasures I love) from Bob Putnam, a great nurseryman who ran a rock garden nursery in the Seattle area in the 1970s and 80's. He insisted I take some pots of these, and the very same plants he gave me over thirty years ago are still thriving and wafting their incredibly rich, almost tropical fragrance every evening for weeks and weeks on end in the summer months. This is in full bloom for me now several places in my garden...

These are just a handful of virtually unknown and terribly underappreciated pinks: no genus is more forgiving, more easily grown for seed and few have such heavenly scented flowers. And most are incredibly heat and drought tolerant.

It's time to give God's flowers their due!


  1. I am always surprised by Dianthus- bright and or showy flowers on tough plants that are strikingly built.
    I wish I had a key- is the one in Flora Europea any good, or do you have another that is??

  2. I have found Flora Europaea pretty useful on most plants: there doesn't seem to be a good horticultural monograph on dianthus: and they hybridize with ease. The most distinctive species do stand out--and of course they are rife across Eurasia and even Africa, so it's a thankless job to tackle the whole group (we even have one native in Alaska which I would love to see one day).


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