But at your rhapsody on the bed of carnations, I am also tempted to launch forth in praise of all pinks in general and the annual flowering garden carnation, early Marguerite, and picotee varieties in particular, especially when I think what results might be had from the same bits of ground that are often left to be overrun with straggling and unworthy annuals. For to have pinks to cut for the house, pinks for colour masses out-of-doors, and pinks to give away, is but a matter of understanding, a little patience, and the possession of a cold pit (which is but a deeper sort of frame like that used for a hotbed and sunken in the ground) against a sunny wall, for the safe wintering of a few of the tenderer species.
In touching upon this numerous family, second only to the rose in importance, the embarrassment is, where to begin. Is a carnation a pink, or a pink a carnation? I have often been asked. You may settle that as you please, since the family name of all, even the bearded Sweet-William, is Dianthus, the decisive title of Linnaeus, a word from the Greek meaning "flower of Jove," while the highly scented species and varieties of the more or less pungent clove breath remain under the old subtitle - Caryophyttus.
To go minutely into the differences and distinctions of the race would require a book all to itself, for in 1597, more than three hundred years ago, Gerarde wrote: "There are, under the name of Caryophyttus, comprehended diuers and sundrie sorts of plants, of such variable colours and also severall shapes that a great and large volume would not suffice to write of euery one in particular." And when we realize that the pink was probably the first flower upon 'which, early in the eighteenth century, experiments in hybridization were tried, the intricacy will be fully understood.
For the Garden, You, and I, three superficial groups only are necessary: the truly hardy perennial pinks, that when once established remain for years; the half-hardy perennials that flower the second year after planting, and require protection; and the biennials that will flower the first year and may be treated as annuals.
The Margaret carnations, though biennials, are best treated as annuals, for they may be had in flower in three to four months after the sowing of the seed, and the English perennial border carnations, bizarres, and picotees will live for several years, but in this climate must be wintered in a dry wooden cold pit, after the manner of the perennial varieties of wallflowers, tender roses, and the like.
I emphasize the words dry wooden in connection with a cold pit from my experience in seeking to make mine permanent by replacing the planks, with which it was built and which often decayed, by stone work, with most disastrous results, causing me to lose a fine lot of plants by mildew.
The truly hardy pinks (dianthus plumarius), the fringed and clove-scented species both double and single of old-time gardens, that bloom in late spring and early summer, are called variously May and grass pinks. Her Majesty is a fine double white variety of this class, and if, in the case of double varieties, you wish to avoid the risk of getting single flowers, you would better start your stock with a few plants and subdivide. For myself, every three or four years, I sow the seed of these pinks in spring in the hardy seed bed, and transplant to their permanent bed early in September, covering the plants lightly in winter with evergreen boughs or corn stalks. Leaf litter or any sort of covering that packs and holds water is deadly to pinks, so prone is the crown to decay.
In the catalogues you will find these listed under the names of Pheasant's Eye, Double Scotch pinks (Scotius), and Perpetual Pink (semperflorens). With this class belongs the Sweet-William (dianihus bar-batus), which should be sown and treated in a like manner. It is also a hardy perennial, but I find it best to renew it every few years, as the flowers of young plants are larger, and in spite of care, the most beautiful hybrids will often decay at the ground. There is no garden flower, excepting the Dahlia, that gives us such a wealth of velvet bloom, and if you mean to make a specialty of pinks, I should advise you to buy a collection of Sweet-Williams in the separate colours, which range from white to deepest crimson with varied markings.
Directions for sowing the biennial Chinese and Japanese pinks were given in the chronicle concerning the hardy seed bed. These pinks are not really fragrant, though most of them have a pleasant apple odour that, together with their wonderful range of colour, makes them particularly suitable for table decoration.
In addition to the mixed colours recommended for the general seed bed, the following Japanese varieties are of special beauty, among the single pinks: Queen of Holland, pure white; Eastern Queen, enormous rose-pink flowers; Crimson Belle, dark red. Among the double, Fireball, an intense scarlet; the Diadem pink, Salmon Queen, and the lovely Oriental Beauty with diversely marked petals of a crepy texture.
The double varieties of course are more solid and lasting, if they do not insist upon swelling so mightily that they burst the calyx and so have a dishevelled and one-sided look; but for intrinsic beauty of colour and marking the single Chinese and Japanese pinks, particularly the latter, reign supreme. They have a quality of holding one akin to that of the human eye and possess much of the power of individual expression that belongs to pansies and single violets.
By careful management and close clipping of withered flowers, a bed of these pinks may be had in bloom from June until December, the first flowers coming from the autumn-sown plants, which may be replaced in August by those sown in the seed bed in late May, which by this time will be well budded.
"August is a kittle time for transplanting border things," I hear you say. To be sure; but with your water-barrel, the long-necked water-pots, and a judicious use of inverted flower-pots between ten and four p.m., there is no such word as fail in this as in many other cases.