Dianthus hybrids

The first modern hybrid pink, with the merit of perpetual flowering, was bred in 1919, a cross between a perpetual carnation and an old white pink. For centuries before that, gardeners had adored pinks, many of which were exquisitely fringed or marked, and the ‘florists’, or growers who bred for competition, often artisans, especially in the north of Britain, developed hundreds of wonderful varieties – but they flowered once only.

Today, the modern pinks, sometimes listed as D. x allwoodii, are more widely grown, though they have by no means ousted the old-fashioned pinks, some of which have nostalgic names like ‘Dad’s Favourite’. The modern pinks usually flower for two months in mid-summer, and if regularly deadheaded, give a secondary show in autumn. The best make cushiony clumps of narrow grey evergreen leaves, and are heavily scented. A famous variety is ‘Doris’, with bright pink flowers with a salmon-pink ring in the centre on stalks 12 inches (30 cm) high. Many consider the colour too brash, but I know no pink which produces quite so many flowers. Another good variety is the dark crimson ‘Ian’.

Of the old pinks, I love ‘Dad’s Favourite’, a semi-double white pink with chocolate lacing, and ‘Laced Romeo’, creamy white with red lacing, and of course there is dear old double-flowered ‘Mrs Sinkins’, with all sorts of faults, such as a short flowering season and a split calyx, but a thick border of ‘Mrs Sinkins’ sends a swooning scent far into the garden during its short and heady life.

Pinks need well-drained, preferably alkaline, soil, but it should not be ill-nourished or excessively dry. They should be planted about 12 inches (30 cm) apart in soil enriched with humus and bonemeal. Though hardy, pinks do not live for more than three or four years, but cuttings strike easily.

A good companion for pinks is Festuca glauca, a dwarf grass with tufts of blue-grey leaves.

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