Dianthus, the genus that carnations belong to, range from the little jewels of Cheddar pinks 'Tiny Rubies' ('Dianthus gratianopolitanus') to the long-stemmed and fully-double flowers we think of as florist's carnations ('Dianthus caryophyllus'). They are perennials and do best in full sun. And they are often used as men's boutonnieres. But what else can I tell you about carnations?
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 25, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Carnations have a history covering over 2,000 years. They date back to Greek and Roman times when they were used in art and décor. Carnations in these early times were predominantly found in shades of pale pink and peach, but over the years the palette of available colors has grown to include red, yellow, white, purple, and even green. Dianthus roughly translates to "flower of love" or "flower of the gods", depending on the source.
"Like many other flowers, different messages can also be expressed with the flower's different color varieties. Light red carnations, for example, are often used to convey admiration, whereas the dark red version expresses deeper sentiments of love and affection. White carnations are associated with purity and luck, and pink carnations are often given as a sign of gratitude. In the early part of the 20th century, carnations became the official flower of Mother's Day." The carnation is also the state flower of Ohio, the January birth flower and the 1st wedding anniversary flower. One more fun fact... it is the name of a shade of pink and a crayon color in the larger boxes of Crayola® crayons.
If you want to grow carnations in your own garden, there are many lovely cultivars available, both as plants and as seed. Carnations are easy to grow from seed. They can be sown any time from late winter on. Germination takes from 7 to 14 days. The seedlings should be transplanted into 3" pots when they are large enough to handle. After all risk of frost, harden off seedlings before planting out in the garden. Most are hardy to zone 5 or 6, but you should check on the particular cultivar that interests you. Generally, perennials started from seed will not bloom until their second season. Of course, if you are a gardener who doesn't start plants from seed, or you don't have the patience to wait a year for blooms, there should be a decent selection of carnations at your local garden center or available online. Usually you will have more choices if you start from seed.
If you would like more information on seed starting, there is an excellent series of articles by DG's own Jill Nicolaus (links are available at the end of the article).
The two beautiful picotee photos, taken from PlantFiles, the huge plant database here at Dave's Garden, were both started from seed. At left is 'Picotee' and at right, 'Stripes & Picotees'.
Carnations are available for the garden in both a full-sized plant, 18" to 24" tall, and a dwarf, ranging from 6" to 12" in height. True florist carnations are mainly grown in greenhouses. With a height of up to 4' and larger flowers, these are the ones florists look for to use in arrangements and bouquets. They can be grown outdoors in milder climates. Below are photos of the dwarf 'Adorable' series from California Florida Plant Company. This is an excellent example of the superb range of colors available today. Yes, even green! Although the green here is natural and not a 'dyed for St. Patrick's Day' flower, you may have fun with this project. Take a look at this article by Melody Rose, Dyeing Carnations: A Fun Project With Kids. It will walk you through how to dye a white carnation almost any color the way the florists do.
Photo credit: ampy
Photo credit: PotEmUp
Photo credit: jg48650
Photo credit: ampy
For you dyed-in-the-wool carnation fans, I found a carnation festival. It is the Greater Alliance Carnation Festival, held in Alliance, Ohio, also known as Carnation City. It will be held August 7-17, 2008. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the red or scarlet carnation is the Ohio state flower. It was adopted in 1904 in memory of President William McKinley who always wore one in his lapel. He started wearing carnations that were presented to him by a friend, Dr. Levi Lamborn who was also his opponent for a congressional seat. Lamborn always gave him one before a debate. McKinley won the Congressional election and associated the carnation with his success. President McKinley was assassinated minutes after giving the lucky scarlet carnation from his lapel to a young girl who wanted a souvenir.
Carnations have long been a favorite of mine. They have a strong, spicy, clove-like fragrance. As a cut flower, they just can't be beat... very long-lasting and they complement almost any other flower. They also have a long blooming season in the garden. I am drawn toward the pink shades. And do you remember making those pretty tissue paper carnations when you were a kid? What's not to like?
Additional photo credits with huge thanks to all of the talented photographers who contribute their time and talent to expanding PlantFiles:
I'm a 'dabble' gardener. Been gardening since I was a child. I will plant anything that will grow for me and some things that won't, indoors or out. Outdoors I have theme gardens: roses, butterfly/hummingbird, heathers/dwarf conifers, a rock garden (in progress) and a new English-style cottage garden with an herb garden at it's 'heart'. Indoors I try to concentrate on orchids, African violets, anything that will flower or has lots of color and unusual houseplants. I try to stay organic and keep chemicals to a bare minimum. My non-gardening interests include quilting, counted cross-stitch and watercolor painting. I am a proud grandma, recently celebrated my 40th anniversary and before my retirement I was a clinical systems analyst (computer geek) for 24 years.