Divine Dianthus

Dianthus really are divine. Derived from the Greek meaning “flower of the gods”. This is a stalwart in any garden and it is the plant that just keeps on giving. Flush after flush of flowers, these plants offer displays almost year round. Dianthus are excellent value for money.


Dianthus, in their gay frilly dresses, are guaranteed to brighten any summer garden and cope well with heat and rain. These old-fashioned charmers with plain green or blue-green leaves and single or double white, pink, claret, scarlet or rose flowers, with plain or fringed edgings to the petals, are wonderful subjects for pots, along pathways and in the front of borders.

‘Valentine Series’ has vigorous growth and masses of red flowers with a white picotee border, and ‘Raspberry Parfait’ and ‘Strawberry Parfait’ have colourful flowers all summer. Grow in composted soil in a sunny position. Deep watering is better than daily sprinklings. Cut back after they have flowered to prevent their going to seed, and to produce a second crop of flowers.

DianthusDianthus belong to the family Caryophyllaceae, a name derived from the Greek for clove tree, a reference to the often clove scented flowers. There are approximately 300 species within the Dianthus genus. Native primarily to Europe and Asia, you will find a few species in North Africa and one species native to arctic North America. South Africa even has an indigenous one – Dianthus mooiensis.

_C0N5912_smallThe most common Dianthus species found in South African garden centres and nurseries all share common physical attributes. They are herbaceous and sometimes woody stemmed. Leaves are opposite and simple. Linear in shape with smooth edges. Colour ranges from grey-green to blue green. The flowers of Dianthus consist of 5 petals with serrated edges. The available colours and variations are numerous: many shades of pink and rose, red, scarlet, purple, lavender, violet, salmon, white. Picotee edges. Coloured central “eye”. You are spoilt for choice.

Dianthus cross pollinate very easily and as result many interspecific hybrids exist. The four most commonly found species are:

Dianthus barbatus, known as Sweet Williams, tend to be the taller varieties of Dianthus and range from 40-60cm in height. The mainly single flowers form dense clusters above the foliage and are popularly used as cut flowers. These varieties are perfect for the back borders of the flower beds.

Dianthus chinensis, commonly known as Pinks, are used primarily as annuals. These plants tend to be more compact with a height range of 15-25cm. The flowers are large, boasting a diameter of around 6cm. These varieties are best suited for front borders and edging. They also work well in containers.

_C0N5922_resizeSmallDianthus barbatus x chinensis, is the most common of the interspecific crosses. These plants tend to be more heat tolerant and frost resistant. The chinensis genes allow for a larger flower and more compact plant. Height range is around 30cm with flowers around 4cm in diameter.

Dianthus x interspecific, includes varieties with unusual characteristics such as double or frilly flowers as well as strongly scented flowers. Height ranges from 5-50cm.

Dianthus should be planted in full sun. Soil should be well draining and slightly alkaline. If your soil is more acidic add some lime or fire ash. Dianthus are prone to stem and root rot so it not advisable to mulch. Dianthus grow better if kept slightly drier than most other bedding plants. It is important that there is enough air circulation around the stems to keep dry so space well when planting. The most obvious sign of poor drainage or too much water is the yellowing of the leaves. Due to their hardiness, Dianthus can be planted in autumn and spring.

These are low maintenance plants. Once flowering is over, cut back to 7-10cm to allow for another round of flowering. With just a little care they will brighten up your garden for up to a year. Dianthus are not heavy feeders. If you add a slow release fertilizer to the soil before planting you shouldn’t need to give supplementary feed more than once every couple of months, and then do so lightly.

There is a Dianthus to suit every need in the garden. From edging and borders to rockeries and ground cover. Pots and hanging baskets. Cut flowers. Most importantly, Dianthus attract butterflies and birds to the garden. A sweet reward for every gardener.

Happy gardening!

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