Pinks: Carnations of January

GENUS: Dianthus
D. plumarius ‘Spring Beauty’-mixture of double flowers; colors range from pink to rose, salmon, and white with interesting markings. D.p. ‘Essex Witch’-dwarf variety; only 5 inches tall; rose-pink; easy to grow. D.p. ‘Aqua’-white, double flowers on stalks 10 to 12 inches tall. D. caryophyllaceae-garden or florist carnation; 18 to 24 inches.
FAMILY:  Caryophyllaceae
BLOOMS: summer
TYPE: perennial
DESCRIPTION:  Members of the genus Dianthus include both the florist’s carnation and the garden pinks. They are lovely, clove-scented flowers worthy of the attention they have received. Colors generally range in the pink and red tones, though there are white varieties, as well as a yellow species, D. knapii, native to Yugoslavia.
CULTIVATION:  Pinks grow best in very well-drained, slightly alkaline soil. Optimum conditions include full sun but relatively cool weather. Keeping the faded flowers picked will lengthen the blooming period, and removing lateral buds promotes a larger and stronger center flower.
pinks flower
The sweet, spicy scent of pinks, combined with their lovely blossoms, has made these flowers favorites of kings and noblemen, as well as common folks, for many centuries. Pinks were thought to be the favorite flower of William the Conqueror, Edward III, Charles II, and George V.
All members of the genus Dianthus are called “pinks,” including the species D. caryophyllus, the florist’s carnation. The name pink is from the word pinct, which means “pinked” or “scalloped,’  referring to the jagged edges of the petals. To pink something is to cut a jagged edge, as you would do with pinking shears.
The earliest mention of carnations was in connection with the Crusaders, who were stricken with the plague near Tunis in the thirteenth century. They drank wine mixed with leaves of the pinks to help control the raging fevers. They took the flowers back to France, where they were called tunica.
Designs of carnations are found on tiles dating back to the fifteenth century, and it is thought that the Turks have been cultivating these flowers since the 1450s. Pinks became a symbol of the high point of civilization during Roman times. It was called the flower of flowers in ancient Greece, and the genus name means “divine flower” because of its fragrance and beauty. It was called flos Jovis, or “Jove’s flower,” in Rome.
Because the original flowers were flesh colored, they were called carnations, from the Latin word carnatio, meaning “flesh.” A Christian legend tells us that when Mary saw Jesus carrying the cross, she began to cry, and where her tears fell, carnations began to grow. Perhaps because of this legend, the pink carnation became a symbol of a mother’s love and in 1907 was chosen as the emblem for Mother’s Day.
An Italian legend tells of a young woman, Margherita, who fell in love with a knight, Orlando. Orlando was called to war and carried with him a white carnation that Margherita had given him. When Orlando was mortally wounded, his blood stained the center of the flower. The flower was returned to the heartbroken Margherita, who planted the seeds. Every flower that came from these seeds was white with crimson centers. Margherita never married, and it became customary in her family to bring a vase of carnations to each baby girl born into the family.
During the Renaissance, pinks were associated with happiness and carefree days, and because of this, they were used to “combat melancholy and cheer the heart,” according to an ancient herbal.
Dianthus-Flavora-Rose-Shades-Oasis-Horticulture-Pty-LtdCarnations were at one time called gillyflowers, perhaps a corruption of the Italian word meaning “clove,” for the spicy, clove-like scent.
John Gerard, in his sixteenth-century herbal, wrote that a conserve made from the flowers of pinks and sugar was good to “comfort the heart” and was useful in expelling poison and fevers. By the early seventeenth century, fifty varieties could be found growing in England.
For over 400 years, well into the eighteenth century, carnations were used to flavor beer. ale, and wine. Tavern keepers would sometimes grow this plant in their own gardens and called it sops-in-wine. In 1748 a recipe was published that recommended using carnations to dye the hair black.
In Korea, carnations were used to tell fortunes. A girl placed a cluster of three blossoms in her hair. If the top one died first, this signified that her last years would be difficult. If the middle one died first, the earlier years would be hard. If the bottom flower died first, superstition held that her entire life would be miserable.
In the Victorian language of flowers, yellow carnation means disdain and rejection, purple signifies antipathy and capriciousness, red means admiration, and white is pure and ardent love and a good-luck gift to a woman.
In addition to their beauty in the garden, carnations can also be used for their delicate flavor. The fresh petals can be chopped and added to sweet bread or muffin batter, or made into a syrups or conserves.
Denise Diamond, in her book Living with Flowers, offers the following recipe for carnation syrup:

1 cup plain yogurt
6 to 10 pink carnations {petals only}
1/4 cup apple juice
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Blend half the petals and yogurt in blender. Fold in remaining ingredients.
Serve over pancakes or warm gingerbread.

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