Dianthus species are well-known, even to those who don’t think they know them. The most common is probably the extravagant Carnation, which is usually too wimpy to grow in frosty climates – although there are hardy selections which can be grown from seed.
Most Dianthus tend to be short-lived and will exhaust themselves with their orgiastic summertime displays – this includes most Cottage Pinks, Carnations and a few other special pinks, all of which often need kept alive through the taking of fresh cuttings most years. If you can be bothered.
In the case of Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus), people will allow them to maybe self-seed, in which case they will pop up in the flower beds from time to time over the years. Recent breeding efforts crossing Sweet Williams with the Chinese Pink (Dianthus chinensis) have resulted in better varieties which will flower in their first year AND return to flower again the next as well. Most commercial Sweet Williams now have some chinensis blood in them.
But, I digress! The star of this show is a neglected species which danced in the spotlight briefly in the various flower shows (especially the Chelsea Flower Show) around 2014 or 2015. Various designers had seemingly found the same species, probably listed by the same few nurseries, and decided to use its’ unusual coloring and habit to create unique polka-dot-like textures in their designs.
Great news for me – we sold out of this species at our nursery that same year as a result! But a pity also that fashion plays such a big role in whether people choose a particular plant for their own garden.
This striking ‘Blood Carnation‘ as it is also known, is similar to a Sweet William, insofar as the flowers are tightly clustered, but is otherwise more like Dianthus caryophyllus (Carnation), in that it has narrow, almost grass-like leaves. Indeed, it’s native habitat is dry grassy places across an area including Turkey and the Balkans, so it is adapted to blend in. Also it doesn’t like wet/cold soil, so a rockery can be a good spot in Northern European gardens.
In terms of propagation, it is basically impossible to take cuttings, as the plants really do grow like grassy clumps, and division can be tricky. The best way is to grow them from seed – and it is easy too. We used to start these off in colder temperatures in Spring – they probably don’t need frost, but the warmer temperatures might inhibit germination.
Once established the plants tend to keep going for a while, and will also self-seed happily if allowed.