Spice Throated Clove Pinks
|'Tudor Manor' bred by the author from 17th and 18th century varieties|
Once they were known as Clove Gilliflowers, a name said to be derived from the French name giroflée used for both clove pinks and the closely related carnations. Old garden books from the Tudor and Elizabethan periods, eras of highly creative spelling, called them Gely Flower, Gillofloure, Gelouer, Gillofrée, Gylofre, and Julyflower. Carnations were known at the same time as ‘coronations’ which described their use in medieval times to create coronets worn by monks on festival days in the church, as described by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales.
The flowers of clove pinks may be single through to very double, as can carnations, and may also be as large as carnations. However the flowers are borne in immense profusion, commonly 50 or more at a time on a plant which forms a neat, spreading, evergreen cushion of grasslike foliage. Unlike carnations they never need to be propped up with stakes, and these perennials form a perfect edging to a path, or groundcover, flowering from late spring to autumn in some varieties although they are at their best in early summer. They love full sunshine and good drainage, and require only modest watering which makes them a good choice for a drought resistant garden. They have heat, cold, and humidity tolerance.
|'Tuscan Lace' bred by the author from eighteenth century varieties.|
The wild species from which the clove pinks are descended comes from dolamitic limestone areas in Europe and they thrive best in neutral to alkaline soils. (Rather than adding lime to soils that are on the acid soil, place a small chunk of broken concrete under the cushion of leaves when planting. Every time it rains or the garden is watered, lime will be leached into the soil and the plants will flourish.)
In medieval and Tudor times the cost of the exotic clove spice brought by ship from India could only be afforded by the rich. Mulled ales and wines were flavoured instead by clove pinks that would be grown within the walls of inns. The ancient, heavily spice scented variety ‘Sops in Wine’ (available at Honeysuckle Cottage Nursery) took its name from this use. Today clove pinks are used in perfumery. By Shakespeare’s time, the great herbalist and gardener Gerard spoke of so many clove pinks and carnations in gardens that a large book would not be sufficient to contain them all. William Lawson in the delightful seventeenth century garden book’The Country Housewife’s Garden’ claimed to have nine or ten sorts which were as large as roses and which he called Queen-July flowers. John Parkinson who wrote perhaps the most delightful garden book in the English language ‘Paradisi in Sole’ (1629) may not have filled his book with clove pinks alone but he certainlyfilled several pages. Borders of spicy throated clove pinks in full blow (as flowering was then called) were one of the delights of the 17th century garden. The beautiful ‘Painted Lady’ was bred in this period, characterised by a hand painted lokk, and many varieties of this type were bred.
The beautiful laced pinks appeared in England in the 1780s. These were florist’s flowers bred largely by amateurs and were fully double with a distinct band of a second colour around the edge of the petals. The fringes to the petals,for many one of their charms, were bred out of this group by the mid-1820s. They tended to be an English passion. In the 19th century a number of flower breeders became interested in clove pinks and carnations. Among the glories produced mainly by amateur breeders are ‘Mrs. Sinkins’ and ‘Pink Mrs. Sinkins also known in Australia as ‘Sally’. Both are intensely fragrant. with large, very double flowers in profusion. ‘Old English Mauve’ from the same period has a rich and delicious scent of vanilla and spice given freely on the air and a clear mauve colour.
Some of the many varieties of clove pinks available from Honeysuckle Cottage, my own nursery, include the following which is just a small sample from what can be discovered still in cultivation around the world.:
'Old English Mauve' 19th century large very double, mauve, intensely fragrant of vanilla
'The Joker' Perfectly named, this variety bred by the author from 18th century clove
pink varieties has semi-double fringed flowers which are white to palest pink lavishly
striped and splashed with deep ruby red, with an inner rosette of petals. The fragrance
is deliciously sweet and spicy.
|'The Joker' Clove Pink|
‘Kim Brown’ A 20th century variety with smallish, double, blossom pink
flowers with delightful scent.
‘Val Wyatt’ A 20th century cultivar with smallish double deep bright pink
flowers and spicy fragrance.
‘Whatfield Wisp’ This is superb. It forms a dense, fine, very low silvery green
carpet with incredible numbers of tiny pale pink intensely scented flowers on
5-6cm stems over many months. Rare. This is a delightful specimen for a
‘Doris’ Bred in England, this is an Allwood hybrid flowering over a very long
season with semi-double salmon pink flowers with a deeper eye.
‘Cherry Pie’ A charming cultivar with grey foliage and beautiful single pink
‘Napoléon III’ This is a 19th century mule pink ( a type which is sterile, hence
the name, and bears clusters of smaller double flowers with delicious fragrance).
‘Sops in Wine’ This unusual name dates back to the 14th century when spices
were the province of the rich. Mulled ales and mulled beers were instead
flavoured by throwing in a handful of spicily scented clove pink flowers before
warming the brew. More than one variety was known by this name, but this
cultivar came to us from a rare overseas collection of heirloom clove pinks. It has
small intensely spicily scented semi-double deep red flowers with a slightly
purple cast. Extremely rare.
‘Nigricans’ This is a rare old perennial Sweet William which forms a low dense
carpet unlike modern cultivars and bears many stalks of clustered flowers which
are the darkest wine red possible. 'Holborn Glory' is another of the rare perennial
Sweet William varieties and has large heads of ice white flowers with large ruby
‘Pike’s Pink’ This lovely old English cultivar forms the neatest and densest of
low carpets and smothers in small fully double very fragrant baby pink
blossoms. Very free flowering and like all Clove Pinks very easy to grow in full
‘Carthusian Pink’ or Clusterhead PinkNamed for the Carthusian monks, this
forms a dense mat of grassy leaves and bears tall stems each topped with a
cluster of warm pink baby carnation flowers.
'Mrs. Sinkins' This is the famous 19th century large flowered clove pink which
is so full of intensely scented white petals she usually splits her calyx. The flowers
are borne in the greatest profusion and the fragrance can be detected far beyond
|19th century 'Mrs Sinkins'|
'Jeanne d'Arc' This is surely one of the most elegant clove pinks with very
abundant, intensely fragrant single palest pink fringed flowers borne on
slender stems above a dense cushion-like carpet of fine blue green foliage.
Like its namesake, Joan of Arc, its apparent fragility is belied by real
toughness of character.
‘May Queen’ An old variety fully double, medium sized flowers in profusion, in
the style of ‘Mrs Sinkins’ in pale pink overlaid with splashes and stripes of
raspberry and crimson, filled with fragrance.
D. arenarius This northern European species is a gem with very fine foliage
and quantities of sinle finely fringed and quite largeflowers with stunning
‘The Cheddar Pink’ Dianthus gratianopolitanus The true highly fragrant
native Dianthus from the Cheddar Gorge in England. Very rare. Very charming
fringed light pink flowers borne in great profusion.
‘Old Velvet’ An heirloom variety with delightfully scented deep crimson
‘Devon’ This is an old English cultivar with richly clove scented abundant pink
semi-double medium sized flowers in abundance.
'Mt. Tomah Powder Pink' This gorgeous variety flowers prolifically for much of
the season with medium sized, fragrant, smooth-textured powder pink flowers.
‘Nancy Coleman’ A lovely old English variety with very fragrant double pink
flowers, now rare.
'Mars' This is such a dependable clove pink particularly in cold areas. It forms
a neat dense silvery foliaged carpet and is in flower for much of the season. The
prolific flowers are spicily scented, and shaped like baby double red carnations.