At this time of the year I welcome in my garden a flower that reminds me of my childhood, the Sweet William. It is another plant classed as a cottage garden plant and is hardly available in supermarkets, but it is really an easy plant to grow your self. I can’t find a reliable reference for the name ‘William‘, however the name ‘sweet’ speaks for itself. It belongs to the Dianthus family that includes carnations and pinks, and they all should carry a strong ‘clove’ scent, but sadly, even if you might find them in flower shop they usually lack one of the main characteristics of this family and are sold fragrance free! It is known as a ‘clove scent’, because it resembles the clove spice that is used to season game and poultry. It is interesting to note that these cloves are not a fruit as many people think, but a closed flower bud that has been sun dried. As the real clove only grows in Indonesia or Madagascar we will settle for the poor mans clove – members of the dianthus genus. (For scent but not to be consumed).
Flower of the week from YOUR garden to YOUR table: 4th July – 10th July.
Botanical Name: Dianthus Barbatus . Common Name: Sweet William
The plant grows with small grass like clumps about 20cm. high and from these leaves the flowering stems emerge at the beginning of summer. They tower up, to approximately 50cm holding a flattened head of flowers in such profusion that they hide the leaves beneath them. There are singles and bicoloured, but I find the most attractive ones are those with a picottee edge and a contrasting eye in the centre of each tiny flower. Sometimes the plant has so many flower stalks that they compete with each other for light, the stems then grow very tall and lax which makes them prone to wind damage. Either thin out the flowers stems or tie with string to canes to avoid this.
Buying and Growing guide: Seeds catalogues have an array of different varieties for you to try. The original Sweet William is a biennial plant, meaning that the seeds are sown at this time of the year, it will overwinter and then flower next year in early summer. Recently the seed companies have delivered annual F1 Hybrid varieties, which if sown early in spring will flower the same year. They are usually shorter than the biennial types so I like to keep to the real ones. The range of colours has also widened its not just reds, pinks and white, but we now have a ‘Sooty and ‘Tuxedo black’ which are a deep purple (not exactly black but very close). The other option is to buy them now as small plants in garden centres. I happened to notice quite a large plant, variety Red Rose Bicolour, in LIDL for just £1.69.
Although they are classed as a biennial they seem to have a perennial tendency, especially with our recent mild winters and they just keep coming year after year, this is also because they self seed freely. So once you have them, your lucky, they are in your garden to stay!
When you cut them for internal decoration remember to remove the lower leaves from the stem before inserting into water, to avoid the water getting slimy. The plant will usually thank you with another flush of flowers.
Money saving tip:
1] I just heard some inside information about B&Q and their glasshouses. B&Q are changing the method they sell glasshouses and until the final changeover comes into place, they are literally getting rid of all the old stock in store. This explains why they are giving away a full glasshouse (excl. glass) for £22 or a base for £5, and I understand there are more give- aways in the pipeline – check out in a store near to you. I don’t need another glasshouse (I am also not sure if the glass or plastic is readily available), but I just could not resist the offer so I bought one there and then – I intend covering it with mesh and using it as a fruit cage which would otherwise coat at least £130 and not be as sturdy. The base for £5 will also come in useful as a raised bed.
2] As we know supermarkets are not 24/7 gardeners like we are, as far as they are concerned gardening materials are a seasonal item sold for a couple of months after Easter. Tesco has long removed all their gardening gear, and Sainsbury desperately needs the shelf space for something else, so we gardeners are the ones to cash in. All Sainsbury gardening items , from gloves to spades , from twine to shears, are adorned with red stickers reducing the prices by at least a third – go grab a bargain!
Enjoy your gardening week!
Next week : Do we have to stop picking rhubarb now?