Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Beauty Of Dianthus

The Beauty Of Dianthus

If you've ever seen pinks (dianthus) spreading its charming gray green leaf tones and giddy little fringed and fragrant flowers through the Cape Cod cemeteries and along the roadside, you'll know you must have them on your own home property. What a variety of dianthus are yours for the growing.

White, pink and mauve flowers with fringed and tangled petals —fragrant always. These long-lasting lovely little harbingers of early summer are utterly irresistible.

Consider the area where you'd like to naturalize dianthus. They need full sun, will hold their own in field grass if given a good start. They like light sandy soil but will thrive in poor soil if it is on the sandy side, not clay. When you have selected a possible area for your project, buy a few plants and set them out and see what they do the next year. This we did in a part of our meadow where the black-eyed susans and daisies grow. The few plants thrived so we started our project.

To naturalize dianthus in a field, dig a good spot for each plant, removing all grass roots and clearing a space around each planting site. The dianthus will take over if you give them a very good start. Keep grass from growing over them the first year or two. Water them during droughts the first year. After that the dianthus comes up along with the field grass and merges with it. The dianthus area may be mowed, along with the rest of the field, but not too close to the ground. Once a year is enough, preferably in late August or September, by which time the plants have had a chance to reseed.

Year after year dianthus will grow and multiply, sending their fragrance far and wide. Ours grow in our field within fragrance range of our sleeping porch. We are naturalizing many things within range of this porch, for we like to sleep on summer nights with nature's scents about us—along with the sound of the whip-poor-wills.

Sometimes hollyhocks can be established in the wild and sometimes not. If you have a sunny rich soil, perhaps near a pile of manure or compost, they are worth trying. Once I saw masses emerging from the edge of a dump in Vermont. If hollyhocks do take hold, they will return year after year, cross-fertilizing to bring a variety of colors and shades.

One huge day-lily, a nameless but beautiful golden yellow variety, flowers along a wall in semishade. It gets no attention from one year to another—yet through each July it is a sensation of lovely yellow trumpets. Nearly thirty flowers come at once on our plant. We can see it from the living room windows, but it is worth frequent trips outside for closer examination.

Tradescantia (spiderwort) is a plant that will grow and hold its own in tall grass and untrimmed areas. It sends up charming flowers—blue, pink, violet. The white with a blue center is the subtlest and loveliest of all. The first blooms open in June, then the plant rests in mid-summer. It flowers again in the early fall, persisting until frost.

Have you ever seen yucca, towering 12 feet high on the Santa Maria coast ranges in California? It is sometimes called Adam's needle, and might better be named Adam's Candle, for it rises like a great white torch—high on the steepest slopes. Yucca doesn't grow as tall in the east—maybe only 6 or 8 feet. But even then its striking form and fearsome foliage, with thread-like raffles on the ends of stiff leaves, make it a fine contrast to our lush feathery mid-summer plant shapes. Plant yuccas in a dry sunny spot and forget them.

Johnny-jump-ups are charming little flowers that will grow, among other places, in the gravel of your drive. Once you get them started on your place there is just no telling where they will turn up. They grow like grass through our vegetable garden and we let them, removing them only to plant other more important things. The little plants shade the ground, keep it cool and serve as a wonderful ground cover. Remember, though, they face to the south, so grow them where you can

walk along to the south side of them so you can look directly into their appealing little faces. They will grow anywhere in full sun or semishade—just start them off and let them go.

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