Their strong scent and charming old-fashioned looks make pinks perennially popular, says Adrienne Wild
Resembling a mini florist carnation, easy-care dianthus – which we call ‘pinks’ because the serrated edges to the petals look as though they have been cut with pinking shears – are tougher and will survive outside in all but the wettest of winters and heavy, sticky clay.
They can be relied on to thrive when given a sunny spot, preferably with limy soil and lots of drainage.
There are literally thousands of cultivars that have been sought after and grown by gardeners for many hundreds of years. It’s not surprising therefore, to find that pinks, also known as gillyflowers, have remained a stalwart of rockeries and traditional cottage borders, where regular deadheading keeps them blooming until the frosts.
Today they are also a hot favourite for planting in pots around sitting areas, where they can be enjoyed for their spicy, clove-scented fragrance that wafts through the air on a balmy summer evening.
Although these perennial plants are often short-lived their longevity as a gardeners’ favourite is probably as much down to the fact that they are also easy to propagate.
You simply take cuttings from non-flowering shoots any time from May to July, insert them into trays of moist, gritty compost and keep them shaded for six to eight weeks, after which you will be able to pot up new plants.
It took seven years for Whetman’s Nursery (whetmanpinks.com) to develop the unique pinks in its Cocktail range.
There are five richly fragrant varieties in all: ‘Mojito’, a pure white with citrus centre; ‘Cherry Daiquiri’, whose ragged petals have a beautiful lilac blush and raspberry centre; candyfloss pink ‘Shirley Temple’, that boasts a red central eye; and ‘Cosmopolitan’, that has stunning redcurrant-coloured blooms with a deep cherry eye, plus ‘Tequila Sunrise’, admired for its peach single flower with a red-edged apricot eye, that won a Silver-gilt Medal at last year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
The edible petals of pinks make a pretty garnish for cocktails, too!
Highly recommended is the old-fashioned variety ‘Brympton Red’, which has glowing velvety scarlet blooms with brown markings that are laced with pink from midsummer onwards. Another sumptuous bloom that can be relied on to pack a punch is the fabulous Dianthus ‘Old Velvet’.
This much sought-after collectable, has extravagant semi-double flowers with maroon petals, which are puckered and frilled, with paler pink tracery around the edges and a silvery reverse. Both are very hardy to frost, heat, cold and drought.
They also make a great cut flower, filling a room with a heavenly sweet scent. Another intensely fragrant pink is ‘Sops-in-Wine’, an ancient variety with wine-red details on the flowers, that were traditionally used to flavour drinks.
For more than 100 years, Allwoods nursery (allwoods.net) has been breeding and selling pinks. It offers more than 500 varieties and is best known for long-flowering, scented, hardy garden pinks known as Dianthus x allwoodii or modern hybrids, which can be anything from 7.5 to 45cm tall.
Bred in 1945 and still highly popular today is ‘Doris’, which produces an abundance of double pale pink flowers with deep shrimp-pink centres, from June to October. This compact hardy perennial is not only perfect for containers and planting at the front of borders it is also a great rockery favourite.
Dainty dianthus varieties are always worth finding room for and especially between stones in a rockery. ‘Tickled Pink’ from the Scent First series of border pinks is ideal. It forms a low cushion of grey-blue foliage topped with semi-double flowers featuring frilly, bright rose-pink petals. ‘Whatfield Gem’ is another charmer with double red and white flowers, likened to strawberries and cream.
Then there’s ‘Candy Floss’, which as the name suggests has petals that are a soft pink, swirled with richer tones and with serrated edges. The Dianthus Star series also has some gems that are perfect companions for alpine plants, including ‘Fire Star’, which has vivid red flowers with a deeper crimson eye.
Dianthus ‘Mrs Sinkins’, a Victorian cottage-garden beauty, is known as the classic English garden pink. It has grey evergreen leaves and produces blowsy-looking, powerfully-scented, double white flowers with delicate ragged edges.
A pink form and an eye-catching laced type are also available. One of the more recent introductions which are now turning heads is RHS award-winning ‘Candy Floss’.
This pale pink double will flower at the first hint of warm weather, is ideal for lining paths and looks stunning alongside lavender and purple sage, Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’.
As it’s relatively simple to breed new pinks, lots of variations have emerged over the years and most admired by enthusiasts are the lace-edged, fancy pinks, which have beautiful markings on the petals.
These were incredibly popular in Victorian times and still are. A modern variety worth growing is the RHS award-winning clove-scented ‘Gran’s Favourite’. This pretty flower has ruffled white petals with a splotch of purple-red in the centre and is heavily laced at its raspberry coloured edges.
Other varieties worth seeking out are ‘Laced Monarch’, which has petunia pink petals, darkly laced in chestnut-maroon and ‘London Brocade’, which is a boldly patterned, open semi-double with white petals laced and zoned in purple.