Leading the way with Dianthus
British National Carnation Society
The Malmaison Carnation originated in France but it wasn’t until it arrived in Britain in the 1860’s that its cultivation was perfected. Resembling the Bourbon rose of the same name, it was called ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, but is now usually known as ‘Old Blush’. By the end of the century up to twenty cultivars were being grown. ‘Princess of Wales’ a pink sport of ‘Old Blush’ was awarded a First Class Certificate in 1887 and ‘Duchess of Westminster’ an Award of Merit in 1902. Malmaisons became fashionable in the Edwardian era and were grown in the glasshouses of most aristocrats. Their flamboyant scent, with a distinctive aroma of cloves, and natural time of flowering from June to August, coinciding with the ‘Summer Season’, contributed to their popularity.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century a number of ‘improved’ Perpetual Flowering Carnations, which flowered winter and summer, were introduced from America. Growers such as Allwoods, Engelman and Stuart Low soon provided more cultivars. After World War I they had became the dominant glasshouse carnation, taking over from Malmaisons whose superior fragrance and large blooms with split calyxes did not compensate for their comparatively short flowering period. So-called ‘Perpetual Malmaisons’ (thought to be well scented Perpetuals rather than Malmaisons) were introduced. ‘Marmion’, still available today, received an Award of Merit in 1907. True Malmaisons were still being grown by the large Country Houses, but by the 1940’s their numbers were rapidly decreasing.
Cultivation and Propagation
The cultivation of Malmaisons is similar to that of the modern perpetual flowering Carnation; however, they prefer a cooler dryer regime during the autumn and winter, needing a frost free, airy glasshouse or well-ventilated conservatory.
Propagation used to be done by layering but modern techniques make stem cuttings easier to root. These should be taken from February to June and root best in a mist unit with bottom heat of around 18C. Cuttings can be taken up to November, but the resulting plants will not flower for 18 months. A well drained compost should be used. Once rooted, cuttings are potted into 9cm pots, then 2 litre pots and finally 5 litre pots for flowering. Normal practice is to stop the plants once they have established in their 9cm pots and approximately four shoots allowed to run up. John Innes No.2 loam based, or equivalent peat free compost is ideal for the final potting. (All our plants are grown in a commercial peat free product). Care must be taken not to over-water the plants which must be grown on in cool airy conditions. Plants should flower the year following propagation.
From early April give a weak high Potash feed, such as one recommended for tomatoes, every two weeks as the shoots run up to bloom. Overfeeding at an early stage can inhibit flowering. The best blooms are obtained by ‘disbudding;’ only allowing the crown bud to flower. Malmaisons are usually flowered in the glass house or conservatory to protect the blooms. They are best stood outside in summer after flowering, but protected from continuous rain, then re-housed in early autumn and over-wintered in a frost free, well ventilated glasshouse. Plants are normally only grown for a second year but can be kept for longer if potted on. During the height of their popularity, specimens were grown for four to five years with fifty to a hundred flowers per plant.
Pest and diseases
Cool growing conditions with abundant ventilation are the best preventative control for the two main problems, Carnation Rust and Glasshouse Red Spider Mite. Red Spider Mite can be controlled by introducing a predator from April onwards or by using a suitable chemical. Spraying the foliage with water will reduce Red Spider, but may cause fungal problems. Carnations are also prone to virus. This does not always cause obvious symptoms, but in most cases there is a loss of vigour and propagation becomes more difficult. Virus free plants are produced by micropropation (see below).
We have had the complete collection micropropated including our new cultivar ‘Lady Windermere’, a sport of ‘Princess of Wales’. This has given us disease free stock for propagation. We have discovered that Malmaison Carnations are remarkably hardy, so long as they are kept dry. They grow well in a cold frame, surviving temperatures well below freezing (surviving minus 8C).Warmer dryer summers have also encouraged us to grow flowering plants in pots stood outside, and they make interesting scented ‘container plants’.
Late cuttings (taken July to October) can be flowered the following year by growing several plants as single stems in 4 litre pots. They should not be stopped. Malmaisons need not be disbudded and can be grown as sprays. Both these are simple methods of getting good results.
Duchess of Westminster M Princess of Wales M Tayside Red Old Blush