Saturday, July 6, 2013

A posse of passé pinks...(or...Dianthus to die for: really!): a caryophyllaceous alphabetarium....

Dianthus alpinus
Pink ribbons and hats notwithstanding, pink is not popular right now. Especially the chalky pink perfected by the genus Dianthus. Since I find fashion to be only a tad less tedious than spectator sports, television, or most everything in "mass" culture, you can imagine that I take special pride and pleasure in my unfashionable pinks. I must consider getting a Dianthus pink shirt, now that I think about it.. The classic Dianthus alpinus is finished now (the display in the picture above is ten years past come to think of it), but a bevy of pinks are blooming as I type this in my home garden and at Denver Botanic Gardens--and likely across the whole northern Hemisphere, one can presume. They seem to relish heat and frankly I don't think there are many plants better suited to "garden" conditions in steppe climates. By the way, I wrote a similar paean to pinks almost exactly a year ago--the genus is so rich I shall not repeat myself! Not much anyway...

Dianthus cruentus pink form
There are a lot of cluster headed pinks that look like this: typically this species has flowers of a fiery scarlet (see below): this plant is growing in Dare Bohlander's wonderful garden in Littleton: Dare selected out seedlings with this more conventional color--I suppose just because he could!

Dianthus cruentus in the Rock Alpine Garden
I could be wrong: this could be the rather similar Dianthus ferrugineus. I do know that it's NOT Dianthus pinifolius, the third pink that I've grown with fiery scarlet flowers, only with tiny, needle like clumps of foliage. I can't imagine being without these wonderful scarlet pinks--even if one does sound a tad confused saying that. I especially liked them combined with the yellow Asphodeline lutea--I must remember that combo!

Dianthus erinaceus

If you had clicked the URL to my other blog praising pinks (I've just hyperlinked it here again so you don't have to scroll back) you can compare the picture of Dianthus anatolicus to its near cousin growing not far away in nature in Westernmost Turkey. Both species are famous for being chary of bloom, but we have apparently obtained flowery forms of both: my clone of erinaeus especially is unbelievably floriferous year after year and sets copious seed I send into the NARGS exchange. (Mike! you must remember to have Bone or Katy propagate this this year): please ignore the parenthetical remark if your name's not Mike.
Dianthus giganteus
You shall have to scroll back a bit because I am NOT going to put in the link a third time--but I show a closeup of this terrific pink--the giant of the genus. I grant you in Jan's xeriscape where it's never watered it rarely grows more than a meter tall--but on rich soil with water, this Balkan endemic--commonest in Greece--is surely the giant of the genus and well named. It is also a superb see through plant and an ideal xeriscape denizen that blooms for months on end. It also makes a fine cut flower. The only thing wrong with this plant is that no marketing program has promoted it, so it's rare as hens teeth in commerce (Plant Select take heed!)...It may be tall and gangly to some eyes--but I would not want to be without this stately creature.

Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Tiny Rubies'
 There was a time this was sold in every garden center--but nowadays it's getting harder to find. This delightful cushion plant with fully double miniature carnations should be in every sensible rock garden (except those, of course, that insist on containing only the rarest of the rare--with wild collecteion data and mostly dead plants).

Dianthus haematocalyx v.pindicola
 In that OTHER blog I keep referring you to there is another picture of this growing in my xeriscape. I have found this needs to be re-grown every three or four years--it's not a Methusalah--but it is one of the choicest and most xeric of pinks that blooms for a very long season...

Dianthus microlepis
 I rate this the very best alpine pink: it is one of the first to bloom (I've already harvested seed of it)--but it combines the tiny habit of a true alpine with incredible constitution: I have ten year old plants of this hanging in there still and blooming well. It also thrives in troughs--where it fits well. If you had only one pink you could grow, I would suggest this one.

Dianthus petraeus ssp. noeanus
I praised this in the other blog, and shared a different picture of it--but must do so again: this is just budding up and should be blooming soon. It is a pillar in the July rock garden, where its masses of frilly flowers are beautiful up close or in a misty distance....the cushions are incredibly dense and almost as prickly as an Acantholimon (reason enough for growing it!). Even though our air is a tad too dry for fragrance to carry far, this produces its tropical aroma by the bucket, apparently: I have smelled this wafting a dozen or more feet away. The smell is indescribably--reminiscent of Gardenia or Honeysuckle...only not quite. Grow it and tell me what it is!

Dianthus superbus
This is a specimen of thw most extravagant of pinks grown from wild collected seed Mike Bone and I collected in Kazakhstan--where this is abundant in meadows of all kinds. Of course the plant is ungainly...and of course it's white (although pink and even nearly scarlet in some selections). The extravagant creature exemplifies the origin of the name: pink derives from "pinking shears"--used to create this sort of ragged outline on clothing.

So the poor plants are stigmatized with association with pink--and that name doesn't even refer to a color etymologically! How bitter the irony! But like it or not, the bulk of pinks will remain branded by their namesake color...and those of us "in the know" know that when plants are on the outs, that's the time to grow them before they are sullied again by Οι πολλοί (oi polloi)...aaah! the pleasures of being a true plant snob!


  1. When you say they "relish heat", are we talking 80's?, 90's?, 100's? I tried the cluster heads here in the Ca foothills a few years back, but they didn't come back. Which of the pinks would you recommend for extreme heat? By the way, thanks for being unfashionable! I'm there with you.

  2. Denver regularly gets 90+ heat from May to September (usually at least 50 days of it in that period) with eighties the rest of the summer: we are hot. Most dianthus come from the Mediterranean where 100 in the summer is common on and off for summers: they should be perfectly suited to the Sierra foothills (the exact equivalent of much of their native range). They do come form limestone soils--the Sierras tend to be more acid. I would incorporate some lime, perhaps, and make sure they are well drained. Rock gardens are the best way to grow most species. Extreme heat: plumarius, caryophyllus and giganteus would be the best.


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