DI­ANTHUS

Brought to Bri­tain by refugees and cul­ti­vated by florists’ so­ci­eties, long-flow­er­ing pinks are renowned for their spicy per­fume

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Travel - WORDS JOHN HOY­LAND PHO­TO­GRAPHS DIANNA JAZWINSKI

Some plants have an im­me­di­ate, shout-out-loud ap­peal, oth­ers be­guile us more slowly. For many years I thought pinks, those low-grow­ing, car­na­tion­like flow­ers that sit over cush­ions of grey fo­liage, to be old-fash­ioned and too much fuss for too few flow­ers. I had seen far too many of them dur­ing my child­hood in the gar­dens of older rel­a­tives to want them in my gar­den.

It took a col­lec­tor of pinks to open my eyes to their beauty and to chal­lenge my prej­u­dices. Plant col­lec­tors are of­ten ec­cen­tric, some­times geeky but al­ways pas­sion­ate am­bas­sadors for their plants and it was one, the late Mark Tre­n­ear, who showed me the beauty and the his­tory of pinks and, im­por­tantly, how they could find a place in the gar­den.

The genus Di­anthus in­cludes car­na­tions and sweet wil­liams as well as pinks. Sweet wil­liams are bi­en­nial plants with domed heads of small flow­ers. Seed mixes usu­ally pro­duce plants with a range of pink and ma­genta flow­ers.

The dis­tinc­tion be­tween car­na­tions and pinks is some­times blurred. Car­na­tions are de­scended from Di­anthus caryophyl­lus, a species from south­ern Eu­rope and North Africa, and tend to pro­duce large flow­ers on tall stems. To look half-de­cent in the gar­den these plants need a lot of sup­port and the palaver in­volved in stak­ing in­di­vid­ual stems means that they have fallen out of favour with most gar­den­ers. Car­na­tions are now mainly grown by the cut-flower trade.

Pinks are de­scended from Di­anthus plumar­ius and are much more com­pact plants that re­quire no stak­ing and no great hor­ti­cul­tural skills for them to flour­ish. Most of all, how­ever, the flow­ers have a heady per­fume, usu­ally of cloves and other spices. One whiff and you will un­der­stand im­me­di­ately why their pop­u­lar­ity has en­dured.

Pinks have been grown in Eu­ro­pean gar­dens for more than 500 years. Raphael’s de­vo­tional paint­ing Madonna of the Pinks, painted in 1507 shows mother and child play­ing with the flow­ers. In the 17th cen­tury many new va­ri­eties of plants, in­clud­ing pinks, ar­rived in Bri­tain. Refugees flee­ing per­se­cu­tion, in­clud­ing Huguenots from France, brought with them many va­ri­eties of pinks. New plants were bred by plant col­lec­tors and florists’ so­ci­eties.

One of the most im­por­tant groups in the devel­op­ment of pinks is the Pais­ley Florists So­ci­ety, the ma­jor­ity of whose mem­bers were weavers who bred dis­tinc­tive bi-colour flow­ers, of­ten with fringed petals that be­came known as Pais­ley pinks. It is im­pos­si­ble to say for sure that all the old pinks, or her­itage pinks, around to­day are ex­act de­scen­dants of those grown in the 18th and 19th cen­turies, but they do evoke the flow­ers that were prized dur­ing that pe­riod. Di­anthus ‘Pheas­ant’s Eye’ was first recorded in 1690. The cen­tre of the flower is deep red and the fringed white petals have a red stain to their tips. An­other old cul­ti­var, Di­anthus ‘Dad’s Favourite’, is re­put­edly a sur­vivor of the Pais­ley pinks. The cen­tre of the flower is beet­root red and each of its white petals is edged with a broad red line. The ma­jor­ity of pinks are at their peak dur­ing June and July and flower just once. At the be­gin­ning of the 1900s plant breed­ers de­vel­oped re­peat-flow­er­ing hy­brids. Mon­tagu All­wood pro­duced a range of long-flow­er­ing pinks that were orig­i­nally known as Di­anthus x all­woodii – now known as Di­anthus All­woodii Group – and the best-known of these, Di­anthus ‘Doris’, a dou­ble pink flower with a rasp­berry cen­tre, is still widely avail­able.

Pinks have tra­di­tion­ally been grown around roses but be care­ful that the rose fo­liage doesn’t over­whelm the pinks. Around the front of a bor­der they min­gle well with Al­lium senescens subsp. glau­cum, a low-grow­ing al­lium with sim­i­lar blue-grey fo­liage to the pinks. I have also seen pinks charm­ingly part­nered with the nod­ding flow­ers of Al­lium cer­nuum. I al­ways grow a few in pots so that I can bring them close to the house to en­joy the de­li­cious per­fume. I am not quite the nerdy col­lec­tor, but I might be on the way.

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All­woods All of the di­anthus im­ages for this month’s plant pro­file were taken at All­woods in West Sus­sex. This spe­cial­ist nurs­ery was es­tab­lished by Mon­tagu All­wood and his two broth­ers in 1910. Mon­tagu bred sev­eral new va­ri­eties of pinks, many of which are still pro­duced at the nurs­ery that was given a new lease of life in 1994 when it was taken over by Emma and David James (above). all­woods.net

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