In the pinks…

Blooms of the genus Dianthus are perhaps some of the most widely known flowers to both gardeners and non-gardeners alike. While the family has over 300 species and many hybrids a much smaller number are commonly offered by retail sources for the home garden. The genus contains annuals, biennials and perennials however, many are treated as annuals regardless of their botanical nature. Dianthus of all sorts are classic cottage garden flowers whose foliage forms grey-blue or grey-green mats with the flower stems rising in early spring. They are commonly called pinks by UK gardeners but almost always referred to by their genus name in the US.

Dianthus barbatus or sweet william is a staple of our spring gardens. Although biennials, sweet williams are often treated as annuals in California and replaced from 6 packs each year. I cut mine back every year after they go to seed and accept with grace whatever hangs on til the next year. Once the biennial/seed cycle is established I pretty much always have some in the foliage only state and others bloom ready. There are tons of named hybrids, so many so that they often are not even marked with their variety but only bear a color designation.



I am sure these are very familiar to everyone! I place them to serve as low edging material in the very front of my beds. They come as go as they please so every few years I may add in another 6 pack or two.

A few years ago I started buying every different dianthus species I came across just to see how the ones less familiar to me could be used in my beds. These included named varieties of Dianthus deltoides (maiden pink), Dianthus gratianopolitanus (cheddar pink) and Dianthus caryophyllus (carnation or clove pink.) For the most part they have stayed in the front of the borders and beds and they have been carefree with the exception of an occasional hard cut back to stimulate new foliage.

Two of my favorite clove pink selections are from the Devon Cottage Series of Dianthus caryophyllus bred by Whetman Pinks of the United Kingdom. After a few years in the ground they have formed nice big clumps of foliage with lots of flowers. This series is a great cutting selection and if they have any fault, it is that they are floppers once the flowers open. Even though the flowers are only about 12-14″ tall my plants end up with alot of props! As the common name suggests, the flowers have a wonderful clove scent.


This is Devon Cottage ‘Fancy Knickers’. You can see that the size in bloom rivals the erect foliage of the iris they neighbor. This clump is about 18″ in diameter.


The bloom is bright white with just a hint of a pinky red eye. Every stem has multiple buds which bloom in succession. Deadheading is a must to keep the bloom vigorous and the plants neat looking–I find this to be true of all dianthus.

I also love the clear pink Devon Cottage ‘Rosy Cheeks’. In the ground a few less years, the overall plant size is smaller but the blooms still hover at the foot tall mark.



Another Whetman Pinks hybrid which has done well in my garden is Dianthus ‘Starburst’, sometimes labeled Dianthus ‘Clavel’s Starburst’. A smaller, tighter foliage mat and correspondingly small, shorter flowers of raspberry, pink and white grace this early bloomer.



Here are a few others blooming now!

7 thoughts on “In the pinks…

  1. Hello! These are lovely. Where/how did you get the Fancy Knickers, please? Did you grow from seed, or were you able to start from a plug or similar? I’m having a heckuva time finding potted plants of any size, online, in much variety. Same for seeds. The UK folks won’t ship outside the UK/EU. Thank you!


    1. Hi, Christine! The Fancy Knickers started as 4″ containers and were an early spring big box store purchase–can’t recall if it was Lowe’s or Home Depot. I agree that online purchasing can be problematic and expensive when you factor in shipping. Where are you located in the US? I am always starved for good garden center (we only have 2 or 3 independent gardens centers in a community of 600,000+) offerings even right in the center of California. Home Deport and Lowe’s are hit and miss but often yield some gems–my Fancy Knickers clumps are still going strong after several years. they are a little too shaded now and I get a lot of floppy flower stalks so i’ll need to think about relocating some to a sunnier area. Thanks for your interest in the blog!


  2. Hello — thank you for the informative response! I am in the San Francisco area and we have Sloat Garden Center, Clement Nursery (a small but mighty 70+ year-old gem), and FlowerCraft; sometimes I trek to Annie’s Annuals in Richmond CA. Rarely, I get down to cruise a few nurseries in Half Moon Bay. We have Bay Natives in San Francisco as well: they seem to be expanding and stocking more plants, with an improved website, so I’ll be heading there soon (garlic chive plants, stevia for a friend, and who knows what else?).

    At Sloat Garden Center I found 5 of what I am 99.99% sure is Super Trouper Orange in one-gallon pots, which are very happy in the ground right now… but they’ll remain smallish. At this point I am willing to pay about the same for a 4-inch as the standard gallon price, if only I could *find* the varieties I would like.

    Since I’m planning to ask Sloat Garden Center if they’ll order specific roses for me from their supplier Weeks Roses, I will ask if they can also source some specific dianthus caryophyllus. Gardenias are *not* happy in my yard as evergreens inter-planted with my roses, despite mini-bark mulch and plentiful water (the roses are pretty happy, so I’m bummed about the gardenias). Thus carnations are my next thought, as well as being worthwhile on their own merits.

    Monterey Bay Nurseries has a few named dianthus that I’d like, but are wholesale only. I’m happy to do the homework, [pre-]pay a mark-up at whichever shop will help me, and promise to buy a dozen; but the plants just seem so hard to track down to start with. The lovely “Doris” and “Show” lines seem to be only in the UK (ex.: Some East Coast suppliers list varieties I’d like but are not producing them. Monrovia doesn’t list many that I want.

    I have afternoon western exposure, and the mixed blessings of climate change have brought more warmth and clear days to even the foggiest parts of San Francisco. I grew a few yummy cherry tomatoes this summer, and my honeysuckle is exploding!

    Again, I thank you for the informative blog post and reply, and the pictures are very helpful, too!



    1. We are practically garden neighbors—I travel often to the Bay Area for garden tours and events and visit garden centers close to my day’s destination. I loved hearing about your garden and i empathize with the challenge of wanting specific plants with having local or even online sources. Additionally, in fall—the absolute best time to add trees, shrubs and perennials—retailer’s inventories are at their lowest. Fall is for gardeners but spring is for retail sales and I suppose that will never change. I envy your proximity to Annie’s Annuals! I usually attend the Garden Conservancy East Bay events and try to get to Annie’s as part of an overnight trip. Just never enough time. I’ll keep my eyes open on future Bay Area road trips for any interesting dianthus and give you a heads up!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s