Last year I decided to revisit a plant I had not grown for decades. It was the Chinese pink (Dianthus chinensis). I turned to Chiltern Seeds to get it, though I am not sure they are stocking it this year. The Chinese pink is native to Russia and surrounding areas and is perennial, though barely so, and although the flowers are pretty and often zoned, with contrasting eyes, the flowers have little or no scent. It is easy to grow from seed and flowers when young. In fact the plants had buds forming when they were planted out last summer.
What I was looking for when I was seed buying was the strain ‘Baby Doll’. This has huge flowers on very compact plants only 15cm tall and although I am usually averse to dwarf plants I wanted it because it was one of the first plants I ever grew form seed. I must have been about 8 years old and I bought some Bees seeds from a supermarket and this first batch was red salvia, Livingstone daisies and dianthus ‘Baby Doll’. Of the three, the dianthus was the most sensible as a foray into seed sowing!
Back to now and the dianthus plants, which still looked pretty good at the end of autumn, were left in their beds to see what would happen. They looked less than happy at times but in early spring they perked up and started to produce lots of upright stems. Now they are starting to bloom. It is not the best mix of plants since some have no flowers yet while others are covered in blooms. But I like the way they combine the intricate markings of Sweet Williams with a neater habit and much larger flowers. The plants are about 20cm high and each one is different. I think they will be past their best at the end of summer but it should be possible to collect seeds from the ones I like best.
Seeds should be sown in gentle heat in a propagator in March/April and transplanted into cell trays. Plant out when danger of frost is past, though light frosts are tolerated. Water carefully when tiny because they will not tolerate wet compost as small seedlings – they are more forgiving when bigger. Plant out in good soil in sun or (very) slightly shaded places. Good for pots.
I wish they had fragrance but you can’t have it all.