How to care for dianthus/pinks

Val Bourne

Beautiful summer-flowering pinks (dianthus) are short-lived perennials sensitive to their environment. Read Val Bourne's tips for getting the most from your pinks.



Pinks are more subtle in form than their close relation, the carnation, with finely divided foliage and smaller, highly-fragrant flowers in shades of pink and white. These come in one glorious June flush. They are short-lived, sun-loving perennials and most only stay in the peak of perfection for three years or so before declining.

Caring for pinks

You can rescue leggy plants from cuttings or 'pipes'. It is best to pull away the new growth by hand by gently tugging from the main plant.

These 'heeled' pieces should be leafy. If there are any buds remove them so that the cutting concentrates all its energy into root growth.

Plunge the small pieces into a seed tray or pot filled with either a 50% mixture of grit and compost, or with damp horticultural sand.

Place in shade and keep the cuttings damp. Within six to eight weeks you will be able pot up new plants.

These can be planted in a well-drained, open position in early September, or kept in a cold frame and planted out in April.

Trimming back mature plants after flowering will keep them more compact and extend their life. Propagate from the snippings.

Pinks and pollution

Pinks thrive in clean air under open skies: They can perish in polluted conditions and if overshadowed by trees. Take a lesson from history - Scottish weavers who bred and named 3,000 laced pinks in the 18th and 19th century lost all but a few when the air quality deteriorated in the Industrial Revolution.

'Paisley Gem', a maroon-edged white, may be from that era. Other old favourites include the highly-scented, loosely ragged white 'Mrs Sinkins' which is vigorous and makes a large mound. She still remains one of the very best.

Pinks and carnations – the difference

Pinks and carnations share the Latin name dianthus which means ‘divine flower’. They are closely related, but carnations tend to have larger, thicker leaves that curl at the tip. They also tend to be less hardy and to have larger, less-fragrant flowers in a wider range of colours.

More importantly, carnations flower perpetually. True carnations are often grown under glass as cut flowers.

It's also interesting that the ‘pink’ originally referred to the crimped edges of the pink’s petals. It only became known as a colour in its own right when pinks became really popular in the 17th century.

Good varieties of pinks

'Gran's Favourite' AGM
A long-flowering, white with pink lacing. Compact and clove-scented. Height 12".

Dianthus carthusianorum
Grass-like green foliage and willowy dark stems topped by a cluster of bright-pink flowers. Said to have been introduced by the Carthusian monks in medieval times. Forms (which are seed-raised) vary. Height 18".

'Inchmery'(1800)
Shell pink, flat double blooms - a dainty pink with a strong perfume. Flowers over a long period. Height 10".

'Laced Monarch'
Petunia pink petals, darkly laced in chestnut-maroon. Free flowering with strong clove scent. Height 12".

'India Star' AGM
A beautiful bengal-rose, single with a ruby star at the centre. Dark buds, prominent anthers, good perfume and compact foliage. Height 8".

Did you know...

Pinks were highly popular and clove-scented varieties were used in the kitchen to spice up wine and possets in the days when real cloves were beyond the pocket of most. These fragrant flowers were known as Gilly Flowers and this is a corruption of the French word for the clove tree - le giroflier (Syzygium aromaticum). One old variety is even called 'Sops in Wine'.

Old favourites include the highly-scented, loosely ragged white 'Mrs Sinkins' introduced in 1868 by Charles Turner, a Slough nurseryman. It was bred by John Sinkins the Superintendent of Slough Workhouse and attempts were made to get him to name it after Queen Victoria. But he insisted on naming it for his wife and this pink eventually became so acclaimed that it's still included in the Slough Coat of Arms. 'Mrs Sinkins' is vigorous and makes a large mound and she still remains one of the very best.

Modern perpetually-flowering pinks

Montague Allwood, who died in 1958, spent his life crossing pinks and carnations to produce a new race of perpetually-flowering pinks with scented, double flowers. These became known as Dianthus x allwoodii and were often given Christian names. 'Doris', a salmon-pink bred in 1945, is the perhaps most famous of all. A later series of laced pinks followed, including 'Laced Monarch', 'Laced Joy' and 'Laced Hero'. The nursery is still going strong today.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.