Sunday, June 29, 2008

Simply Beautiful Dianthus

Dianthus gratianopolitanus: hard to pronounce, but it stands for a simply beautiful plant. The name Dianthus is a combination of the Greek words "dios" for god and "anthos" which means flower. Thus this divine flower has always been highly esteemed by gardeners and viewers. Dianthus gratianopolitanus (grah-see-AHN-no-pohl-ee-TAHN-us) is also called "Cheddar pink" and "Border pink". The origin of the term "pink" or "pinks" is likely from the Dutch or German words for Pentecost, which is the plant’s bloom time. Cheddar pink is named for Cheddar Gorge in southwest England, one of the locations where it grows wild. Border pink is a name that refers to its functionality. It is a common misconception that Cheddar pink is a cultivar itself. 

Native to Europe and the Mediterranean, Cheddar pink is a versatile plant. I’ve seen it used as an excellent border or edge, in rock gardens, as a stunning sloping ground cover, in terra cotta pots and wall crevices. If you have a cottage garden it is not complete without this plant. Being relatively short, Cheddar pink grow about 4" tall and up to 1’ wide. Its flowers will add an additional 4" in height. Cheddar pinks can be semi-evergreen or evergreen and can live from Zone 3-9 depending on the cultivar.

Dianthus tend to have blue-green, blue-gray or silvery leaves. These are complimented by a wide range of pink, but also purple and red blooms. These ornamental flowers are clove-scented and attractive bees and butterflies, which pollinate this self-fertile plant. Even though they only grow ankle-high the scent is strong and pleasant. The double-flowered form, 'Flore Plena' has an even stronger scent.

Cheddar pink grows best in full sun in any (sandy to clay) soil as long as it’s well drained. The plant prefers a soil pH of 6.6-8.5 and cannot grow in the shade. I have seen the plants growing in maritime environments as long as the soil was dry.

Although it germinates during cold frames, Dianthus should be planted outside after the last expected frost in your area. Plant them about 10" apart if you’re using them as a border or ground cover. If grown in a container, use a soil mix with very good drainage and place in full sun. Don’t fertilize too much or the plant will be leggy with fewer blooms. Repeat irrigation of the new plantings after the soil has thoroughly dried. Cheddar pink can tolerate short dry periods, but will produce fewer flowers in drought or in continual hot, dry areas.
After an eye-catching bloom in late spring, prune or deadhead your Cheddar pinks for extended bloom time. During the winter months there is no need to put down more than one layer of mulch. The following March or as soon as new growth appears, your year old plants may need division. Larger clumps can be divided and replanted, but smaller clumps may need to be potted first until they establish significant roots. Transfer the year old potted plants back outside in the spring. Mature plants need to be divided every few years to promote longevity and prevent rust, leaf spot, root rot, and other diseases. And deer will avoid mature plants.
This undemanding plant has many popular varieties. 

x 'Firewitch’: Voted 2006 Plant of the Year by The Perennial Plant Association. It has one of the bluest foliage of all Dianthus, the longest bloom period and is the most tolerant of heat and poor soil conditions. As a groundcover, the pool of silvery-blue foliage produces eye-popping magenta-pink blooms. If you live in Zones 3-8 you will not be disappointed with this one. Plant them 18" apart as one plant can spread up to 2’.

x 'Bath’s Pink’: A Georgia Green Industry Gold Medal Award winner. Produces pale pink 1" blooms that perch beautifully atop its blue-green foliage. Attains 1’ in height and width, but plant them about 10" apart to be sure you don’t have gaps. Blooms in early summer, but after pruning it blooms through late summer. Grows in Zones 3-9.

x 'Fire Star’: A shorter variety that grows less than 6 inches tall but demands to be noticed with its dark, scarlet blooms that have a darker crimson center. Starts blooming in mid spring and can bloom up to late summer. A dense and vigorous grower that grows best in Zones 6-9.

Let’s discuss Cheddar pink one more time. It’s a drought tolerant and fragrant plant that is a beautiful border, edging, ground cover or feature which attracts butterflies and resists disease (as long as it’s kept dry) and deer don’t like them. You pretty much cannot go wrong with this plant. I give it my highest recommendation.

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