(Species: Dianthus - Family: Caryophyllaceae)

Dianthus and its origins
Carnations, pinks and Sweet Williams are all close relatives of the Dianthus family. Beloved by the ancient Greeks - the name is from the Greek words 'dios', meaning 'god' and 'anthos' meaning 'flower.

These pretty, frilled flowers with their distinctive sweet, clove perfume have been popular throughout history, and are especially prevalent in cottage gardens and rockeries. Dianthus natural habitat is chalky soil through Europe and Asia.  

Seasonality: Dianthus in flower
All Dianthus have distinctive grey-green or almost silvery foliage, but the flowers, and size of the plant, vary between the several groups. Border carnations offer larger flowers on stout stems, and each stem produces several flowers in midsummer; these can be picotee forms, i.e., have contrast outlines to petals, such as crimson-edged, white Eva Humphries.

The shorter pinks are often prettily marked, and are either old-fashioned pinks, that form cushions of foliage, have a spreading habit and bloom just once, in midsummer, or are modern pinks that have a more vigorous growth and flower several times through summer, such as deep pink Houndspool Ruby.

How to plant: Dianthus
Dianthus prefers a chalky soil, i.e. one that is more alkaline than acid. Soil needs to be free-draining, so if necessary, work in plenty of grit when planting. Choose a position in the garden that is open and sunny.


Some taller-growing carnations will need staking for support. Most varieties are hardy so need no winter protection. Pinks make a good edging plant and small, tuft-forming pinks are ideal for rock gardens. All make excellent cut flowers.

Propagation of Dianthus
Biennial Sweet William, Dianthus barbatus, can be sown from seed in late spring to flower the following summer. Carnations and pinks can be increased by taking softwood cuttings in early to midsummer.

Did you know?

The Elizabethans named Dianthus 'gillyflowers' and grew a wide variety of them, as well as using them in nosegays and depicting them in paintings.

Archaeologists believe that the beautiful pink of Crete, Dianthus arboreus, is the model for the decorative murals in the palace of Knossos.
Pinking shears, the scissors with serrated edges, are so called because they create the frilly effect found on the petal edges of pinks. And pinks are thus called simply because of their colour.