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A UK View of Pinks vs. Carnations

By Carolyn Whetman
Mention the name “pinks” and the most British people will recall with nostalgia the sight and perfume of a border in their grandparent’s garden. British gardeners have been particularly devoted to Pinks which belong, more than any other flower, to the days of sun bonnets, print dresses and tiny cottage gardens. Their history is impressive, having been cultivated for hundreds of years with much evidence of wild forms abounding on the mountains, hills and valleys of ancient Greece. They are found throughout the world and were a favorite in the UK even before the reign of Elizabeth 1, when they were grown to edge garden borders, to be picked for posies and made into bunches to be sold in the market.

The question often asked is, what is the difference between pinks and carnations? And the answer is genetics. Nearly all modern hybrid Pinks have D. caryophyllus in their ancestry, together with D. plumarius, D. chinensis and D. gratianopolitanus, but the main distinctions are the blue grey foliage, narrow leaves, strong constitution, ease of cultivation and frequently the presence of a darker ‘eye.’ Several centuries of breeding have produced an astonishing range of flower hues and patterns, but the one characteristic in both pinks and carnations that is easiest to lose is that of perfume. There are few modern carnations available, whether spray, standard or pot, where perfume has been retained. The modern hybrid pinks and dianthus available have been specifically selected to retain the spicy fragrance for which they have always been renowned. These modern cultivars include the ‘Devon Cottage.’ ‘Scent First’ and ‘Star’ ranges raised in the UK.

However, it is not just the perfume that makes modern pinks an outstanding plant. They have a strong constitution, provided some simple cultural rules are obeyed. Their favorite site is in full sun in a neutral to alkaline well-drained soil--if the garden grows good rhododendrons then pinks will not fare so well and they dislike waterlogged acid conditions. They are cold hardy (-20C, -5F), heat tolerant and can withstand a certain level of drought. Commercially, they can be produced pot to pot in a cold environment with plenty of air movement. And they are versatile--cultivars available can be used in rock gardens or for edging, for window boxes, patio containers or larger planters; and they make a wonderful perennial plant with fragrant flowers for cutting from April to September.

It is a remarkable fact that many established gardeners and flower arrangers have forgotten the qualities of pinks, and there exists a generation of new and young gardeners who have yet to be introduced to them. With today’s desire for lifestyle benefits that perfumed flowers bring to health and well being, pinks are enjoying a well-deserved revival.--Carolyn Whetman, Managing Director, Whetman Pinks Ltd., Dawlish, Devon, England. Reference.

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