Gardeners have been growing dianthus for hundreds of years, and it is a mainstay perennial in the English cottage border. The name pinks is often attributed to the colour of the flowers, however, it may also be a description of the edges of the petals, which appear to have been cut with pinking shears. The smallest form, Dianthus deltoides, or maiden pinks, are only inches tall, and come in a variety of colours from white to intense magenta. Intermediate height (12 – 15 inches) forms of dianthus include Cheddar Pinks (D. grantanopolitanus), Cottage Pinks (D. plumarius) and Hybrid Pinks (D. allwoodii). All come in a similar colour range, some with two-toned flowers. Hybrid pinks are also the classification for Clove Pinks, which have an intense sweet smelling flower. The largest form of Dianthus is D. caryophyllus, or carnations, which grow to 2 feet in height. As these are hardy only to zone 6, they will not survive the winters in our area.
All dianthus prefer full sun in a well-drained alkaline soil. The soil may be sweetened with a mixute of wood ashes mixed with compost, dug in around the plants in the early spring. Ensure the plants receive plenty of light, and air movement to prevent disease and slug infestations. Division is not recommended, so propogate through vegetative stem cuttings in mid-summer. Keep the cuttings moist and partially shaded until the roots form, and then plant them out in the garden.
(Written by Gini Sage, this article was originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society newsletter, April 2008. Photo credit: Amy Urquhart.)