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Leading the way with Dianthus

British National Carnation Society

Articles 3

The first Pinks I ever bought were from a Garden Centre whilst holidaying in the Lake District.   When I arrived home, I was fascinated by these beautiful small Carnations and so visited the Ashfield Show, where I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the late Colin Hayes.   Colin could see my interest and took me under his wing.   We had many happy times together in his and my own greenhouse and at shows until he was sadly taken from us.

Since Colin’s death, I have continued asking questions of much more knowledgeable people than myself.   I have taken advice and then added my own interpretation of how I think I should grow my beautiful Pinks.

The thing I found was to listen, to ask questions and then adapt to my own particular circumstances and what I wanted to achieve.

I now have my own way of growing Pinks as I am sure everyone else has, and I am sure that a lot of people would raise eyebrows if they saw the way I do things, but it is my way and has been quite successful for me.


What growing Pinks does for me is to totally relax me as I have a pressure job all week but no doctor or psychiatrist could ever give me the total peace I feel when I am in the greenhouse particularly on Sunday mornings with the sun shining, the birds singing and the bells of  St Mary’s ringing out.   This is true contentment and nothing else enters my head, if I could bottle it I would make a fortune.


After all this time nursing my flowers to maturity, what do I do with them. ?   Well I attend a couple of shows each year where I stage quite a lot of flowers and sometimes the Judge smiles on me and I get a card.   Sometimes I don’t, but it matters very little.   To get a red card, especially at a show is a bonus, but that is not what attending shows is all about.   It’s the being there and once again being able to have a laugh and a joke with some very sincere and helpful people who grow Dianthus be it Pinks, Borders or P.F.’s.

To grow these flowers is a beautiful hobby, it is not a vocation.   We have quite a few new members in the Yorkshire Carnation Society and to all these people I would say ‘come along and do not think that your first efforts will cause you any embarrassment when you see the quality put on the show benches by people who have been growing for years.

Seek out the Show Secretary and if he or she is very busy they will gladly point you in the direction of someone who will be only too pleased to help in any way possible.   We all had to start somewhere and you never know, it’s all on the day and you just might have the best bloom in the Show, without realising it. !


Showing is not my first love however, this has got to be the raising of my own Seedlings and this is no mystery.   The way that I do this would probably make people frown but it suits me and I have had some good results with the likes of :-   Olivia Newby, Brierley Grace, Secret Love, Pamela Flett Supreme and new ones this year  (2007)  with :-  Halcyon Days, Symphony, Mayfair, Crimson Halo and Peter Newby.

How I do it, to me is simple.   I do not cross A x B and the next year B x A as I know it should be done.  

 I still maintain, and it is only my own theory that if you cross quality with quality, eventually if you grow enough seedlings you will come up with some good ones.

I find an open flower of quality with the stigma sticking up ( that’s the white curly bit’s in the middle of the flower ) then find a flower with pollen on it, usually the easiest to find is a single, although if you look hard enough you will find pollen on doubles.

I then take the flower with the pollen off the plant and holding it underneath the petals with my thumb and forefinger, place it on top of the receiving flower and twist it shaking the pollen onto the stigma.   If you wish to cross more than one flower on the same stem then of course there is nothing to stop you.

When I have finished the pollination I then label the stem with what it has been crossed with and in 24 to 36 hours the flower should have crumpled up like tissue paper.   The petals will then go brown and when they have, gently strip the petals and the green calyx leaves ( these are the leaves underneath the flower ) off, leaving a seed pod.   I then over the next two or three days strip all the buds off the stem leaving me with just leaves and seed pods, allowing the pod to swell and go brown in colour.

After about six or seven weeks the pod should be ready to crack open to reveal the seeds, you will know when the time is right because the pod will begin to open on the tip.   If you don’t catch it at the right time the pod will burst open and you will loose your seed.

Open the pod too early and the seed will still be white and not a bit of good, it’s the black or dark brown seeds that you need.

When you have the seed, set it in the normal way and when your seedlings are showing two or three pairs of true leaves, pot them up singly and wait for nearly a year to find out what you’ve got.

It is 99% frustration and 1% elation.   How many times have I been in the greenhouse first thing in the morning and had a seedling showing two or three nice petals and good colour.

When you know it is going to be a sunny day, the first thing you do when you get home from work is rush straight down to the greenhouse because you know the sun will have opened your new flowers.   How many times have I been disappointed again,  but there is always a time in the season when it is not disappointing, it’s a beautiful flower and then it’s all worthwhile.

Even having said all this, many times I have grown these lovely seedlings on for a second year only to find they were not good after all.


I really must say a word about the way in which I take my cuttings and once again it is simple with a 95% success rate.   I do nothing special, I take a 5” pot and fill it with horticultural sand   (NOT Silver sand )  firming it into the pot with my knuckles, but not too hard !.

I then pour water into the top of the pot and allow it to soak through and when it has, I again firm the top of the pot with my knuckles until no water appears there.

I take cuttings about 3” long when trimmed, dip it in hormone rooting powder and push the cutting into the sand about  ½ “ deep.   A 5” pot will hold about 40 cuttings easily and I then stand the pots on staging outside, in fact at the side of the house where it is sheltered, covered overhead with glass but open on three sides.

Within three weeks they will generally be rooted but as I start taking cuttings from the end of July, they may need a little more water if the sand dry’s out too much.

I have also found through trial and error that smaller cuttings will generally root faster.


In conclusion, I can honestly say that in this world of stress, tension and violence, growing my Pinks takes me onto another level.   Some people would probably say ‘ You sad person ‘ but they have no idea what peace and contentment my hobby brings me.

My wife Pam knows this and although she moans and says I should take my bed down to the greenhouse, she doesn’t really mean it because she knows I need it.

The smile on her face when I bring an armful of flowers up to her in Summer say’s it all.


It really is worth it and I hope that what I have tried to put down here will be of some help to our new members.

I grow my own way and sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong but growing this lovely flower will I hope forever keep me sane, and help me to keep my life in perspective.



Mike Newby.

October 2007

Growing My Way - Mike Newby

Before we get to Mike's article an interesting piece of news'


Donation of Plants to Highgrove

As a result of the visit by a group of members of the BNCS to Highgrove, the Gloucestershire home of their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales in October last year, it was suggested that the happy coincidence of the sixtieth birthday of the foundation of BNCS - by amalgamation of two long-standing Societies - and that of His Royal Highness should be marked by the gift of some dianthus. Following discussion with the Head Gardener at Highgrove, Deborah Goodenough, it was resolved  that the Society’s gift should take the form of sixty Pinks, to be set out in the Mosaic garden, and thirty Border Carnations for the ‘cutting garden’ to provide ‘buttonholes’ in season.

The pinks, sourced from the largest professional supplier in England, were potted up by Peter Booker in 7cm square pots, using his own ‘Bofield’ compost which consists of sterilised loam, green compost and grit with no peat or added fertiliser, a regime that complies with the organic principles by which Prince Charles manages his gardens. The Border Carnations were sourced from two current breeders, Doug Cottam and Peter Booker, and were potted up in 10cm pots in the same compost. Varieties of both Pinks and Carnations were selected to include recent cultivars and some old favourites, with scent an important consideration, so we did include Mrs Sinkins among the Pinks and Grace’s Scarlet Clove among the Borders.   A full list of those supplied can be seen on the Society’s website.  Each plant bears a label designed by Peter giving both the variety’s name and a reference to the Society’s sixty years.

Willing members of the Society helped to ferry the consignment from North Lincolnshire to Gloucestershire and the plants were delivered to Highgrove on 11th May 2009.  Soon afterwards we received the following letter:

‘I am enormously grateful for the marvellous varieties of Dianthus and Border Carnations you have so generously given to me for my 60th birthday. Your immense kindness is much appreciated and they will greatly enhance the garden at Highgrove.

This comes with my heartfelt thanks and warmest good wishes.’

It was signed:   Yours most sincerely     Charles.

The garden at Highgrove is visited, by appointment, by hundreds of gardening enthusiasts every year: it is good to know that the plants we love can be seen there and their beauty appreciated.

Hylton Oberst