In the pink

While roses may be the queens of the summer garden, pinks are surely the pretty princesses! Pinks bring colour, with their often-intricately-patterned blooms, and intoxicating fragrance. They are essential plants in my own garden and they have many qualities that make them ideal for small and urban gardens: they are compact, have attractive evergreen foliage and they are resistant to drought once established. They are perfect for a cottage-garden look and they are also wonderful cut flowers. I love them because they are a link with the past.

They were popular in Tudor times and their strongly clove-scented flowers were floated in cheap wine to mask the bad taste as well as being used in nosegays to mask the smell of everyday life.

As always, I will mention a few important facts first before I go on to extol their virtues. To start with, they can be a bit complicated!

What is the difference between pinks and carnations? In general, carnations have bigger flowers and most are not hardy (though there are rare border carnations and annual carnations that can be grown from seed). The perpetual carnations, the ones you buy as single blooms and spray carnations from florists, are not reliably hardy and not generally sold as plants.* Pinks are called pinks not because they are pink i(n colour) but because their petals have ‘toothed’ edges to the petals, as though cut with pynking (pinking) shears ) although the shears are sometimes thought to be named after the flower).

*You can take cuttings of shoots you find on cut flowers but they make tall, gangly plants that are not much use in the garden, though they will bloom outside in a sunny, sheltered spot.

All are dianthus. Dianthus includes lots of plants including the biennial sweet Williams.

Pinks vary from alpine plants to the common garden pinks. You will also find seed-raised pinks in garden centres, in full bloom now. These are annuals and good for pots but many are not scented and they will not last beyond this summer.

But I digress! I want to talk about the hardy, perennial garden pinks that bloom all summer. These are sometimes called Allwood pinks after the Sussex nursery where they were originally created by combining old garden pinks, that only flower in June and July with the perpetual-flowering carnations. This created a new race of long-flowering pinks with gorgeous scent and stems long enough for cutting. The most famous of all is ‘Doris’ in salmon pink.

Look for them now and pop them in the front of borders in full sun in well-drained soil. When planting, make sure they are at the same level as in the pot. If planted too deeply they may rot. They will tolerate clay soil provided it is not waterlogged and they positively thrive on chalk.

One other point to bear in mind is that they are not long lived plants. They are at their best in the second year and after the third they get woody and decline. They tend to be shorter-lived on rich and moist soil and last longest on rather lean, drier soils. Fortunately it is easy to take cuttings and now is a good time. Simply take young, non-flowering shoots and put into gritty compost. They will root quickly and the new plants will be ready to plant out in autumn.

So on to all the good points! All these pinks are deliciously fragrant, especially on a hot summer day. They are ideal for a ‘sensory garden’. ‘Doris’ is the most popular and everyone’s favourite. I have to say that, among them all, the best, in my own garden, is ‘Devon Wizard’. A rather searing magenta, the foliage is good, steely blue and the scent is among the very best and full of that clove smell that we associate with pinks. I only have to walk past a clump and the scent wafts up to my nose. A pot of this (or any other) on the patio would be amazing! Three plants in a 40cm pot (of John Innes compost) would provide colour and scent from May to September for several years.

The ‘Laced Pinks’ with pale flowers edged and ‘eyed’ with contrasting colours are a link with the past and have the look of flowers that were popular in Tudor times but have modern health and flower all summer.

I grow pinks largely as cut flowers but they are perfect for edging a rose bed, look and smell amazing with lavender and woody herbs and can even be grown in patio pots (use John Innes compost).

Weekly reminders

Tomatoes in pots need to be fed every week with tomato fertiliser. Make sure they are always moist and that they never dry out. Support them and remove sideshoots.

Make sure peas and beans are watered during dry weather to help pod set

Make sure climbing roses are tied to supports as they grow to prevent their weight snapping them off

Cut off the old stems from lupins as the flowers fade to prevent seed being formed and to encourage a new flush of bloms

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