Article: In the Pink!
in Cottage Garden Society Magasine, Spring 2006
In the Pink!
Cottage gardeners have always had a soft-spot for the genus Dianthus with its many garden-worthy plants grown both for their floral beauty and, often, their luxurious clove perfume. The group comprises the pinks and carnations as well as Sweet William and the more humble maiden pink with its delicate beauty daring you to kneel to best appreciate its allure. More recently I’ve been growing another Dianthus species that, I’ve discovered, has an interesting history.
I don’t know when I first started growing the Deptford Pink, Dianthus armeria, but it’s now a willing volunteer biennial that happily self-sows in my garden here at Touchwood in
Swansea. Now, where is Deptford, I wondered, and are the fields there full of these during the summer months? I found the answers, but what a surprise….Deptford is in the East End of London and is one place in the country where the Deptford Pink is not found….and that’s not because there are no suitable sites for it anymore, but because it was probably never there in the first place! I discovered the name to be a famous misnomer, given by the herbalist Thomas Johnson in 1633. What Johnson found and described was probably the lovely, diminutive maiden pink Dianthus deltoides.
The Deptford Pink seems to settle well in gardens, although in the wild it favours light, sandy soils (which mine is) with often a rather high pH (which mine definitely isn’t). It is found wild in the southern parts of Britain, but has rapidly declined due to loss of its hedgerow and grazing habitat, being now known from possibly only 15 sites. Therefore, in the UK Deptford Pink is classified as vulnerable and is specially protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
However, recently the Pink has returned to Deptford (if it was ever really there in the first place)!. The Laban Centre and Deptford X Festival commissioned a modern installation of the flower into the area as part of the Festival. I quote from their website:
The work comprised [ ] two translucent banners 17mtrs x 3mtrs, printed with repeat images of Deptford Pink flower. Sited at a high level to maximise visibility and suggesting an association with sky, floating and ethereal existence …… [and also of] repeat images of Deptford Pink, printed on ceramic tiles. The theme of the installation was the Deptford Pink, a wildflower that was once believed to have originated in Deptford. In fact the flower never grew in Deptford and was wrongly labelled and identified by botanist Thomas Johnson as far back as the seventeenth century. The images were created to highlight the flower’s intriguing history, its plight and to bring the pink flower to its rightful home. A flower that exists on the edge of survival. An endangered species, it is precarious, fragile and close to oblivion.
Are you interested in growing this interesting plant with bright cerise flowers, speckled with lighter pink freckles? It flowers for a long season as only a few flowers open at a time. I had a generous harvest last year and will send a packet of seeds to anyone sending an SAE to me at: Touchwood, 4 Clyne Valley Cottages, Killay,
Swansea, SA2 7DU. Happy sowing, and recounting of this intriguing tale to garden visitors!