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Why grow Carnations?

Carnations, there are generally two types of Carnation, the Garden Hardy type known as Border Carnations or the Greenhouse Carnations known as Perpetual Flowering. For the last 110 years our company has specialised in Carnations both in supplying plants for you to grow at home or as a cut flower through our Flowers by Post service. Unfortunately due to Covid19 our Flowers by Post service had to close in March due mainly to delivery issues and staffing and has yet to re-open with the ongoing situation.

But how much do people really know about Carnations and why grow them? So I thought it may be interesting to tell you a little bit more about them and look into the history of this beautiful flower and its origin…

The Carnation has been cultivated for over 2000 years in Asia and Europe and was grown as garden flowers in Ancient Rome & Greece. It is said that the name Carnation derives from the words “coronation” or “corone”, the roman word for flower, as the Ancient Greeks used them as fashionable garlands for ceremonial events.

The Carnation is part of the Caryophyllaceae family and their botanical name “Dianthus” was given to them by Greek botanist, Theophrastus which means “Flower of the Gods.” Dianthus covers both Carnations and Pinks - but that's for another time.

According to Catholic legends, the first Carnation was formed from Virgin Mary’s tears when Christ was crucified upon the cross. Leonardo De Vinci’s painting “Madonna of the Carnation” was inspired by this legend.

The natural or original colour of the flower is actually purple-pink but over the years due to cross pollination, selective breeding & genetic selection we now have many colours to admire, 300+ different varieties to be exact.

The original flower looked a lot different to the "fluffy" carnations we know and love today. Unfortunately the original flower species is no longer available.

The Carnation flower is said to represent Love, Fascination & Distinction, as a cut flower you can tailor your message by the bloom colour you choose, in particular, Deep Red is for Love, White is for purity, Yellow is for disappointment & rejection and Pink is the official flower for Mother’s Day. The Carnation is the designated birth flower for January, the red Carnation is the State flower for Ohio and is also the national flower of Spain.

If you are into home remedies, you may be interested to know that these flowers can be used to make tea which aid in helping with stress relief, fatigue, depression, insomnia and female hormonal imbalances. They are also known to be used as flavoring agents in the manufacture of beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages. The flower is edible and the petals can be used to flavour salads or as decorations in ice cubes and on cakes. Just ensure the flower is free of pesticides before ingesting it.

Its delightful clove scent, found more in the Border Carnations that modern day Perpetual varieties, has made a unique perfume in the past which was a popular product here at Allwoods back in the good ‘ol days.

I think it’s fair to say that this charming flower is often over looked when compared to the beauty of a Rose or Lily but is in no way any less magnificent.

So that's the history of them, but why grow them?

Well there are many good reasons why - if we start with growing Border Carnations, firstly they are garden hardy and will reward you with incredible flowers that are delightfully clove scented, the blooms can be used as cut flowers and are an evergreen perennial. They were once the flower to have and many stately homes had borders filled with these varieties, the negative to growing Borders is they only have one flush of flowers a year, usually May to July time and due to the size and length of the flower stem they do require supporting and they are not always the easiest to propagate. Over the years, as with many things they have lost favour, which is such a shame and now they are becoming scarcer and harder to find or buy as "easier" more "in-trend" plants take over and they face the very real possibility of being lost to time forever.

Perpetuals are grown predominately in the greenhouse for their abundance of flowers per plant and their ability to flower 12 months of the year with the right conditions. They are increasingly used more and more as summer bedding for their long flowering season, great colour combinations and for adding height in the border - but they are not garden hardy so they are best treated as an annual if grown in this way. As with the Border Carnations they also need the flowers supporting. They are incredibly easy to grow and propagate and will reach flowering maturity within approximately 16 to 20 weeks from a cutting. Perpetuals are the flower used for all cut carnation flowers sold as the quantity of blooms per plant is unrivaled by other Carnation plants, which if you like home grown cut flowers or are a bit of a florist then they are the perfect plant and let’s be honest, we all love growing our own flowers!

Carnations are varied and diverse, you have the delightful Border and Perpetual Carnations as mentioned above but you also have Malmaison Carnations - these are the Aristocrats of the Carnation world with some dating back to the 1800s. They have big blousy blooms (think Peony) and the scent from them is AMAZING!! There are now (as far as we know) only 6 varieties left in the world and like the Border carnations are becoming harder to buy with only specialist nurseries like ourselves offering them.

You also have the Old Greenhouse Carnations, these are the Greenhouse carnations before the modern day perpetual varieties, but these old varieties have scent which the modern perpetual types lack, their other difference is they are not such prolific flowerers and again can be a little temperamental in propagation and growing. Dating back to the early 1900s many were bred by our founders and again only a few varieties have survived the test of time, but through our extensive propagation we aim to keep them alive but demand for them is becoming less and less each year as more "in vogue" plants are talked about.

Then there are Spray Carnations, these have smaller blooms to a perpetual and the flowers cluster up the flower stem, used especially in floristry work as they fill a bouquet quickly and easily without the need for stem quantity, again they come in an amazing range of colours and are easily grown requiring similar care and attention to Perpetuals above.

Other Carnation varieties that can be bought are the dwarf carnation series, often seen in garden centres and usually brought in from Holland, they are usually used as a bedding plant or sold as a pretty pot plant with their dwarf foliage and large blowsy flowers, another lovely variety was the trailing carnation, this was popular 15+ years ago but then went out of favour and subsequently is no longer available.

BBC2 did do a programme called the Great British Garden Revival which aimed to bring back popularity of plants that had fallen out of favour, we were very lucky to have been featured on this programme talking about our carnations in the hopes that publicity will remind people of these wonderful flowering plants, the programme is occasionally repeated and maybe be found on the BBC iplayer or YouTube.

So what will be new for 2021?

Every year we strive to bring you the best from our range and include any new varieties that have been bred. In our Greenhouse carnation range we have 8 new perpetual varieties added and 4 varieties that are being relisted.

In our Spray Carnations we have added 3 new varieties and relisted one

But how do you grow them?

For Border carnations, they will grow quite happily in most soil conditions but do like it to be free draining and like all Dianthus they do dislike prolonged wet roots. They like a nice sunny position, so ideally a south or south west facing border is ideal, to help encourage foliage and flowers feed with high potash plant food.

Perpetual Flowering & Spray Carnations are best grown in pots as they are not garden hardy and this way they are easier to move around. Again they do not like to be water logged so a good free draining compost is ideal. They can withstand cold temperatures if they are not too wet (hence why they are not garden hardy in the UK!) If as their name suggests they are kept in a heated greenhouse they can flower 12 months of the year, the greenhouse has to be kept to a minimum of 7C, flower production won't be so prolific as during the summer months due to poorer light levels but it is possible to have cut flowers for Christmas!


All carnation plants require supporting and this is one of the reasons our Plant Supports were developed in 1909 by our founder Montaqu Allwood and his design has stood the test of time as we are still using the same equipment to make the patented design.

If you would like a little more information on the care and propagation of these easy to grow plants we offer a ‘Growing the Allwoods Way‘ booklet priced just £2.99. This 16 page guide to successful growing of all the plants we grow and sell, not just carnations. It is an invaluable guide in helping you get started, to long term care, we cover the basics and show you how to get the most from our range of plants, from taking cuttings right through to watering your plants.  A copy of this booklet is included free with every order of plants or accessories or alternatively you can buy a copy HERE

Our full range can be viewed here.

Hope you have enjoyed reading and please feel free to share or comment below. Happy Growing

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