Pinks are not necessarily pink at all and come in a wide range of hues from white to cerise to purple and red. Pinks and Carnations belong to the genus Dianthus. Both have attractive flowers which are usually scented and have grey/green foliage. They can be divided into Old Fashioned Pinks, Modern Pinks, Border Carnations and Perpetual Flowering Carnations. Flowers come in single colours – known as ‘self’, two or more colours referred to as ‘fancy’ or edged in a different colour which is termed ‘picotee’. They make great cut flowers and are best grown in a sunny site with free draining soil.
Old fashioned pinks
Varieties such as Mrs. Sinkins (white) are low and spreading and produce lovely fragrant flowers in mid-summer. However they flower only once each year. Modern Pinks were created by crossing Old Fashioned Pinks and Perpetual Flowering Carnations. They are more vigorous and will repeat flower during the summer, examples include Doris (pink) and Haytor (white).
These are more upright and taller. They reach approximately 1 metre in height which is double the size of pinks. They also have larger flowers which are borne about 5 to a stem. Like Old Fashioned Pinks they flower only once each summer. Perpetual Flowering Carnations are not hardy and must be grown under glass where they will, as the name suggests, bloom all year round for a constant supply of cut flowers.
Carnations and Pinks are not the most long lived of plants. They generally give a good display for 2-3 years before they need replacing. They can be grown from seed but only a few of the Dianthus species breed true from seed. Pinks are generally propagated by cuttings taken in summer. Remove a healthy shoot from the parent plant ensuring that it has 4 or 5 pairs of leaves. Cut off the bottom pair of leaves and insert the cuttings 4 cm apart into trays of sharp sand and peat substitute.
Variations on the Dianthus theme include Sweet William, which is a favourite bedding plant and the tuft forming smaller species of Dianthus which are good for rock gardens such as Dianthus alpinus which grows to only 5 cm and that is about the long and the short of it.