Flower Arranging With Carnations

Carnations — dianthus and pinks, were fashionable long before many of the other plants and shrubs now growing in our borders were even thought of, much less discovered. They are long lasting, and perhaps the most reliable of all cut flowers, with the exception of arum lilies. Besides being charming in shape, they are available either at the florists’ or in the garden throughout the whole of the year, and have foliage that is distinguished both in its soft blue-grey colouring and in its unusual shape.

Pinks have been written about and grown and loved since the days of Chaucer, when they were known as picotees, gilly-flowers or cloves. It was a clove which was plunged into the wine goblet to give it a spicy flavour and a rare fragrance, just as rosemary was added to a tankard of ale.

As early as 1629 John Parkinson in his Paradisi in Sole -Paradisus Terrestris named as many as nineteen sorts of carnations and thirty pinks (gillyflowers) which permits one to assume that both flowers must have been cultivated at least during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. (In fact Chaucer mentions the ‘clove gilofrer and nutmeg’.)

At the beginning of the nineteenth century there was a golden revival in the art of the florist and accordingly a large increase in the various types of carnations. These were divided into three: flakes, bizarres, and picotees, and in the early 1800’s Queen Adelaide had a good collection of picotees in her Windsor Great Park garden.Flower Arranging With Carnations

Pinks also were much loved and grown in the Persian Empire in the sixteenth century and in Turkey in the seventeenth century. It is reported that a plant of pink called ‘St. Phocas’s Nosegay’ was sent back to England from Smyrna in 1726.

Sweet Williams seem only to have been cultivated as a florist’s flower at one period, namely the beginning of the Victorian era. The place was in Buckingham where at least a hundred varieties were raised, but the whole stock was sold in 1854 and much of it has since, to all intents and purposes, been lost.

Dianthus is the generic name for all uncultivated carnations, and the wild dianthus, still found growing in parts of Asia, is the forerunner of the many different varieties now available in our gardens. (The parent of the florist’s carnation is thought to be Dianthus caryophyllus, described by medieval writers as the clove gilly-flower.)

We all have our special favourites and most keen gardeners have their own well tried methods of growing them, but I would like to suggest that more and more pinks and border carnations should be planted with a view to cutting for decoration. There seems to be no end to the variety and colour, some plain, some two shaded, some frilled, some with a bordered petal, some with more petals than others, and all almost without exception with an intense scent. The key to having healthy plants and promoting their sturdy growth is to keep the top soil well hoed, staking the plants if it seems to be necessary. Watering is not usually needed.

Since when growing wild they flourish in sunny positions on open hillsides where there is good soil drainage, these must obviously be the conditions they prefer in the garden. One may not be able to duplicate an ‘open hillside’ but one can at least build up a flower bed to a height of one foot to eighteen inches above the ordinary level—that is if the soil happens to be of heavy clay and not, therefore, well drained. Border carnations and pinks that winter outside in the garden should, in most climates, always be allowed to have air circulating freely round their stems and foliage. They do not like protection in the shape of layers of bracken or pieces of matting such as are often provided for most other silver foliaged plants in order to keep out the frost. They prefer currents of air all round their stems and so require, first and foremost, an open position away from wind breaks, overhanging trees, etc. and dislike especially the drifts of damp leaves which might fall in the autumn from nearby trees and settle around them like wet mattresses.

Dianthus (which includes pinks and border carnations as well as greenhouse carnations) like an alkaline soil, sandy if possible—although it must be admitted that sometimes these plants have been known to do quite well on soils with a certain amount of clay in them. For extra food they prefer rotted farmyard manure. However, they are not hungry plants and one of the best methods There are pinks and border carnations to suit everyone, as illustrated by the following remark, overheard at one of the British National Carnation Society’s Shows in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Old Hall:

‘There is a carnation or pink for everybody, no matter how odd his taste’.

Here are some of the plants given awards at the Wisley Trials a few years ago :

Pink Model: plant with very vigorous stout stems, 24-inches long. Flowers 2 — 2t. Inches in diameter, freely produced, centre crowded, scent slight clove; petals broad, entire, a colour near porcelain rose. Cottage Primrose: plant:vigorous with stout stems, 20-24 inches long. Flowers 2-5 inches in diameter, very freely produced, centre full, scent slight clove; petals broad, entire primrose yellow.

Downs Clove: plant vigorous with stout stems 24-30 inches long. Flowers 2-1 inches in diameter, freely produced, centre crowded, scent very strong clove; petals broad, entire, a rich velvety red near cardinal red.

Sussex Fortune: plant very vigorous with fairly stout stems 24 inches long. Flowers 2f-21 inches in diameter, freely produced, centre full, scent strong clove; petals broad, slightly serrated, a velvety shade of geranium lake.

Cottage Jester: plant vigorous with stout stems, 18-20 inches long. Flowers inches in diameter, very freely produced, centre full, scent strong clove; petals broad, primrose yellow.

Mendip Huntsman: plant vigorous with fairly stout stems, 30-34 inches long. Flowers 2-21- inches in diameter, fairly freely produced, centre full, scent strong clove; petals broad, entire Orient red.

Apollo (a variety for the rock garden) : plant vigorous, compact bushy erect habit; flower stems 6-8 inches long, slender, rigid, very erect; flowers If inches in diameter, double, centre tufted, scent slight clove; petals broad, cut, deeply serrated. Magenta rose when first open, changing to a shade of magenta when fully open, faint maroon marking at base of petal; calyx strong.

Helen (a variety for the open border): plant vigorous, compact, erect habit: flower stems 14-16 inches long, slender, very rigid; flowers 2-2-inches in diameter, double, centre full, scent strong clove; petals broad, finely serrated, margins slightly incurving, a shade near porcelain rose.

Thor (a variety for the rock garden): plant vigorous, compact bushy erect habit, flower stems 6-7 inches long, slender, rigid; flowers If inches in diameter, double, centre full, scent-strong clove; petals broad, serrated, a deep glowing red.

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