Height 20-60cm (8-24in)
Planting distance 15-25cm (6-10in)
Flowers early summer until the first frost
Hardy annual and biennial
Dianthus is a large genus of mainly perennials, but it also includes two species which are usually grown as biennials and annuals: Dianthus barbatus, commonly known as sweet William, and Dianthus chinensis, the Indian pink. Both have fragrantthat come in shades of pink, red, cream and white. They appear in summer against a foil of narrow green leaves; they are excellent as cut flowers.
The annual and biennial dianthus are particularly useful for town and coastal gardens as they tolerate pollution and salt spray.
Popular species and varieties
Dianthus barbatus (sweet William) is usually grown as a biennial. In early and mid summer it bears dense heads of sweetly scented single or double flowers in combinations of white, pink and red.
An enormous range of sweet William varieties is available. Most are the standard 30-60cm (1-2ft) high, but a few dwarf varieties, reaching just 20-25cm (8-10in) high, can also be found. Popular varieties include ‘Auricula-Eyed’ (a mixture of pink, red and crimson flowers with conspicuous white eyes); ‘Dunnet’s Dark Crimson’ (dark crimson flowers); ‘Dwarf Double Pinocchio Mixed’ (a mixture of dwarf varieties ideal for containers); ‘Forerunner Mixed’ (compact habit and intense flower colours); ‘Harlequin’ (pink and white ball-shaped flower heads), ‘Indian Carpet’ (a dwarf bedding mixture with long-lasting flowers). Dianthus chinensis (commonly called Indian pink) has had a range of varieties developed from it, which are grown as hardy annuals. The plants are small and compact with pale to mid green, grass-like foliage and attractive flowers with notched petals in shades of red, pink and white. Often the blooms are patterned or have a darker central zone. They are borne from mid summer until the first frost.
Indian pinks reach 30cm (1ft) high, making excellent edging for borders. They can also be used in formal bedding schemes.
Popular varieties include ‘Baby Doll’ (a mixture with large single flowers in shades of crimson, rose-pink and white); ‘Colour Magi- cian’ (an F1 hybrid producing plants whose flower colours on the same plant range from white through pink to deep rose); ‘Fire Carpet’ (single, bright scarlet flowers); ‘Magic Charms’ (fringed flowers in shades of pink and red, white or bicoloured); ‘Snowfire’ (white flowers with scarlet centres), and ‘Telstar’ (early-flowering, bright crimson, pink, white and bicoloured blooms).
Sow the seeds of sweet William in a seed bed in early summer. Transplant to the flowering site in autumn – to full sun and any well-drained soil. Dress acid soil with lime. Stake only if the site is ex-posed and the soil rich.
Indian pinks are grown as hardy annuals. Sow the seeds thinly in the flowering position in, and when the seedlings are large enough to handle, thin to 15cm (6in) apart. Grow them in well-drained alkaline or neutral soil, in full sun.
Pests and diseases
Sweet Williams are susceptible to rust.