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Gardening from Southern California

by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke


Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association

December 21, 2003

For many years a number of bedding plant growers, and some nurseries as well, considered dianthus to be a summer flower. Dianthus, the delightful little flower we commonly call “garden pinks” is a relative of the carnation, but the one we usually grow is the compact, low-growing little plant called China Pinks, Dianthus chinensis, with its marvelous spicy fragrance.

Flower gardeners in Southern California knew quite well that dianthus seldom prospered in our summer heat, and some tried it in the shade where it did better, but it was hard to find as a started plant in the fall for many years. Fortunately in the last couple of years or so nurseries and garden centers have been receiving dianthus in the fall, and on a trip through several nurseries in October I saw plenty in six packs and some in four inch pots.

That’s good, and if you’d like to have some dazzling little colorful bedding plants this winter, try dianthus. There are several kinds of dianthus, but chinensis is the low, bedding type. And there are many varieties from which to choose. Colors are limited to pink, white, cherry, scarlet, coral, and one, Corona Cherry Magic, was an All-America Selections Winner in 2002.

Some varieties are beautiful bicolors—Raspberry Parfait, hot pink with a maroon eye, and Strawberry Parfait, light pink with a strawberry eye—are two of the best and they present a distinctly different picture in the flower garden.

Other good varieties to look for are Arctic Fire, white with a crimson eye, the Charms series in white, coral, crimson, scarlet and pink, as well as a mixture called Magic Charms. Frosty Mix has heavily laced blooms. In the nursery or garden center you may simply find them labeled as dianthus, but try to be sure they are chinensis, since some of the other pinks are good but fairly tall.

Dianthus plants can be set in anytime from now through March for the best blooms. Plant in full sun for the winter, a little shade if you want them to continue into late spring. They’re not fussy about soil, but do like to be kept well watered but don’t want water to stand around them. Plants spread anywhere from six inches to a foot and, depending on the variety, will get 6 to 12 inches tall. And be sure to sniff the dainty little blooms—the spicy scent is even better than carnations.


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