Best Perennial Dianthus (Review)
Do you remember the pinks and Sweet Williams that grew in your grandmother’s garden? Have you ever given or received a bouquet with carnations, perhaps at prom or for a birthday or just to add color to a room? All these are different kinds of Dianthus.
The genus Dianthus contains over 300 species, only a few of which are cultivated. However, even those few provide too much fodder for one blog article, so I will concentrate on the perennial Dianthus – the Pinks. These are low-growing varieties well suited for containers, rock gardens, and border plantings and to add that needed pop of color in the garden.
I have always found the common name curious – Pinks. As a child, I assumed that they all had pink flowers. In reality, the name comes from the frilly edging of the flower petals. The verb “pink” dates from the 14th century and means, “to decorate with a perforated or punched pattern.” That is how pinking shears came to be named, because of the zigzag pattern they leave as they cut.
Dianthus Needs and Characteristics
Certain similarities exist among all perennial Dianthus varieties. All need well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soil. They can be susceptible to root rot, especially during the winter. Full sun produces the most vigorous, best blooming plants, although light shade is tolerated. Most Dianthus will bloom in the spring and late summer to fall if the plants are deadheaded before they go to seed. Perennial Dianthus have compact, mounding growth habits and are evergreen to semi-evergreen in nature. Most also exude a spicy, clove fragrance that is quite appealing. The plants can be divided every two to three years, giving you even more to enjoy.
Perennial Dianthus can breed across species, resulting in new varieties that embody the best of both species. The resultant crosses exhibit improved cold hardiness and drought tolerance as well as new colors and patterns. Because of this ability, breeders have developed whole series of Dianthus based on traits gardeners want, such as even better fragrance and longer bloom times.
– ‘Firewitch’ and ‘Frosty Fire’ are two varieties that have been cultivated for many years, yet are still in demand for the garden. Both grow well in zones 3-9. The plants have silvery-blue foliage and grow in mounds only 8-12 inches high and 12-18 inches in width. Both varieties open clove-scented blossoms in the spring and will bloom again in the late summer and fall if deadheaded. ‘Frosty Fire’ produces double, cherry red blossoms while ‘Firewitch’ has single, bright magenta blooms. Although ‘Firewitch’ has been cultivated since 1957, it was named “Plant of the Year” in 2006, proving that it has a place even among newer cultivars.
Scent First® Series – England’s Whetman Pinks, Ltd. has developed an award winning series of Dianthus called “Scent First®.” While most Dianthus are naturally fragrant, cultivars in this series are characterized by their stronger, spicy scent. The plants are a little less cold hardy than some other Dianthus, growing best in zones 5-9. The “Tall” group of these spicy beauties can grow up to 15 inches tall, with two-inch blossoms that look amazingly like miniature carnations. The flowers develop on strong stems, making them ideal for cutting.
The smoky grey or silvery foliage provides a wonderful backdrop for the flowers, which range from white to deep pink. Although the tallest of the series, the Tall group does not spread much, making them ideal for container and border plantings. These Dianthus bloom early and will rebloom if deadheaded and fertilized, giving a long season of enjoyment. The Tall group includes varieties such as ‘Romance’, with double salmon pink flowers and a carmine eye, and ‘Passion’, a double selection with velvety red blossoms. Other selections include the clear pink ‘Candy Floss,’ ‘Pink Fizz,’ the white ‘Memories,’ and the peppermint colored ‘Sugar Plum.’
Everlast™ Series –Research has shown that the one thing perennial gardeners want most is plants with a longer bloom window. That wait is over with the introduction of the Everlast™ series of Dianthus from Selecta. Hardy in zones 4-10, the grayish green plants begin blooming in the early spring and continue well into summer. Look for even more flowers as night temperatures drop in late summer. These plants almost don’t quit, blooming well into fall! Growing 8-12 inches tall, the attractive mounded growth habit spreads 10-14 inches and looks great in containers, rock gardens, borders or anywhere a spot of color is needed.
All Dianthus selections in this series have double flowers and are very fragrant. Red picotee flowers grace the unique ‘Burgundy Blush’ entry in this series. ‘Lilac + Eye,’ ‘Lavender + Eye’ and ‘White + Eye’ each have flowers of the color mentioned with the addition of a carmine “eye” of color at the center of the flower. These are beautiful with the deeper color playing peek-a-boo among the double petals. The final selection of the series is ‘Orchid,’ which has petals of deep magenta.