Back in the pink

Perfect plants: Dianthus are one of the joys of the English garden.
Perfect plants: Dianthus are one of the joys of the English garden.
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Pinks are one of the oldest cultivated flowers, beautifully-scented bloomers that will thrive almost anywhere where they can feel the sun on their faces.

And pinks thrive on poverty. Too much of a good thing – such as a rich soil – will mean plenty of foliage but few flowers. In fact, a limey, well-drained soil suits them down to the ground.

And as everybody likes something for nothing, pinks (dianthus) are perfect plants – they love being propagated.

Take cuttings of young shoots which have three or four pairs of mature 
leaves. Pull off the lower pair of leaves 
and cut through with a sharp knife right below the joint. Insert the cuttings 
into well-packed sand in a cold frame 
and give them a light watering to settle them.

The frame should be in a cool, shady place and be kept closed until they’ve formed roots.

Alternatively, if you can’t be bothered with all that, simply pull off a section of plant, remove the bottom few leaves, and stick the bare stem into a pot of compost with added grit. Keep it out of direct sun and more times than not, the cutting will root.

And if you’re not comfortable with a knife, layer them – choose a long shoot, bare at the base but with healthy growth at its tip and push it gently into the soil. Rooting should take place in a couple of weeks, then the shoot can be severed behind the new roots and potted on.

The dianthus family was known as early as 300BC. The genus was given the name from the Greek dios, meaning divine, and anthos meaning flower. And the Greeks got it right; dianthus are divine flowers.

These traditional cottage garden flowers, much smaller than their relative, the carnation, fell out of fashion in the early 1990s, when many British growers couldn’t afford to keep producing 
them for the money people were 
prepared to pay.

Now, however, sales of British blooms are up as much as 30 per cent year on year. And it’s not that surprising because when you have a vase of pinks, you’ll want the flowers themselves, growing out in the garden.

The saying “sweet smell of success” could have been coined for them. Don’t just take my word for it – grow some yourself and see.