Les Hodge | Sweet and saintly addition to gardens

THE SWEETEST THING: Sweet William, named for a saint, is stunning when planted en masse in borders or in containers.
THE SWEETEST THING: Sweet William, named for a saint, is stunning when planted en masse in borders or in containers.

Dianthus barbatus is better known as Sweet William, but earlier in its cultivation it was also called Velvet William.  

It is recorded that Sweet William was much used in the planting of a new garden which Henry VIII had constructed at Hampton Court in 1553.  

There is a tradition that the name Sweet William refers to William the Conqueror, but the more acceptable opinion is that it derives its name from Sweet Saint William after St William of Aquitaine.

Sweet Williams belong to the same family as the carnation, therefore they like being planted in sunny borders in a soil that is well-drained and not too acid in its pH.  

They make lovely border plantings massed, as groups of three to five plants in the mixed border or grown as potted colour in containers.  

Seedlings can be planted out towards the end of March and if well-cared-for will make good growth and be ready to burst into flower come springtime.

Dianthus barbatus ‘Auricula-eyed Mixed’ is probably the most common type grown and comes in a wide range of flower colours of pink to red, purple and white with a delicate clove-like fragrance.   

Sweet Williams flower for nearly two months and will last in the garden for about three years before they need to be replaced with new seedlings to keep up vigour and quality flowers. 

Autumn is the best time to divide up existing clumps. 

Autumn is prime bulb-planting time so plant them in well-drained, pH-neutral soil.

Autumn is prime bulb-planting time so plant them in well-drained, pH-neutral soil.

Bulb boosters

The main planting season for spring bulbs is in autumn as this gives them time to start making root growth before the frosts arrive. 

When planting bulbs make sure the soil is well-drained because, if not, the bulbs will rot. If drainage is a problem, raised beds built up at least 20 centimetres above ground level are a good option.

The ideal soil for most species is a moderately fertile, sandy loam with a soil acidity close to neutral, that is a pH 7 reading.  

Bulbs should generally be planted at twice their own depth and the base of the hole in which the bulb is planted must be flat, otherwise the bulb will settle half way down leaving its roots hanging in mid air.

The basal plate (the bottom of the bulb) is where the roots emerge in a radial manner around the outer edge.  

This basal plate must be in contact with the soil at the bottom of the hole. The larger bulbs are more likely to rot, owing to the greater depth they are planted at, so place a handful of sharp sand or grit at the bottom of the hole then put the bulb on that. 

There is no need to fertilise bulbs at planting as they have stored food for growth and flowering from the previous season.  

Feed with a specific bulb food before and after flowering to build up the bulb’s reserves for the following season. At planting, water in as you would when planting new seedlings.

Diary

March 14: Longford Garden Club meets at the Christ Church Parish Hall, William Street, Longford at 7.30pm

March 15:   The Launceston Orchid Society meets at the Newnham Uniting Church Hall, George Town Road, Launceston at 7pm.

March 20: The Australian Plant Society meet at the Max Fry Hall on Gorge Rd, Trevallyn at 7.30pm.  Visitors welcome.

March  21: The Launceston Horticultural Society meets at the Windmill Hill Hall, High Street, Launceston at 8am. Refreshments after meeting.

Daily: The Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden, Romaine, Burnie is a botanical paradise that attracts tourists from all over the world. Open 9am to 5pm. Tea room 10am to 4pm.