Whole Life Gardening

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I Love Sweet William

I love the old fashioned, cottage garden plant commonly called Sweet William. Diantus barbatus is easy to grow from seed and although in some places it’s called a perennial, you’re better off thinking of this as a biennial. This plant grows one year, blooms the next and sometimes comes back…usually it self-seeds. Don’t bother with the dwarf variety – it’s wimpy. Grow the real thing and you’ll have flowers from late-May into July, good stems for cutting and sweet, spicy fragrance.

Grow this Dianthus in the perennial garden or cutting garden.

Grow this Dianthus in the perennial garden or cutting garden.

10 Responses to “I Love Sweet William”

  1. 1
    Lona:

    I also love Sweet William.Your red is especially lovely.

  2. 2
    Stuart:

    Yer, dianthus is a perennial fave isn’t it. Such lovely drifts of colour to brighten any bed. They look so healthy in your garden.

  3. 3
    CL Fornari:

    One of the nice things about this plant is that you never quite know what you’ll get – all pale? Dark pink? Red? Every year it is somewhat different. These grew in my last garden and this spring I will grow more from seed and plant them in some of the beds at Poison Ivy Acres.

  4. 4
    Genevieve:

    I’m lucky in the Pacific Northwest – even the wimpy dwarf ones do well here for some time! I’ve had good luck with them in one of my most challenging sites – a commercial building two blocks from the sea. They bloomed in a planter for like 8 months straight!

    I’m with you that the barbatus ones are the closest to a perennial. They really do great.

  5. 5
    Amy:

    Seeing your photo brings back good memories. When I was in my teen my parents let me take over the garden patch. I bought seeds and one of the flowers I planted was Sweet William. I re-seeded for several years and I enjoyed it very much!

  6. 6
    maureen valley:

    I have planted sweet williams already started from a garden center and they seem to come up every year. What I don’t understand is what is meant by the plants reseeding themselves or whatever. I have cut off the tops and transplanted them and they grow again. I love them. Hope you can help. Thanks,
    Maureen

  7. 7
    CL Fornari:

    Maureen,
    If you’re deadheading them (cutting off the tops) that is probably extending the life of the parent plant. Usually if a short-lived plant makes a bunch of seeds the parent plant “figures its work is done” and dies off. Do you have the sweet william that grows flower stems about 18 to 20 inches tall? That’s the type I was writing about: Dianthus barbatus. In my gardens this plant self-seeds, so once it’s planted you usually have it as long as the seedlings are not weeded out their first year. The parent plant tends to live two or perhaps three years. In my cutting garden, where I want to be sure that I always have this plant, I grow it from seed every year and plant new ones, much as I do for the Verbascums and foxgloves. Perhaps in some parts of the country Sweet William is more long-lived, and in any case, as all gardeners learn, plants sometimes succeed against all odds, or perform unexpectedly. Thanks for reading Whole Life Gardening!

  8. 8
    maureen:

    Hi again:
    No, I do not have the tall dianthus barbatus, I have the shorter variety. I like the shorter better. I have bought the taller ones and the flowers on it are a little different in that the edges are pointy. My first year for the latter so I don’t know if I’ll have them next year. They are definately my favorite flower. The colors are different on the shorter variety. Thanks for your reply. Love this site.
    Yours,
    Maureen(from Canada)

  9. 9
    Tina:

    Hello:
    I have had my Sweet Williams in my cottage garden for about 8 yrs. I have the Dianthius Barbatus and they are a show stopper. Each yr. is different with what colors come. The flowers come from last yrs. babies, that is how I like to think of this biannual plant. I never have to weed much due to my huge oak tree close by. They are right next to my Buttercups and the contrast is just beautiful. I only get about a week or two of bloom time together, then my Buttercups go to foliage, but the Sweet Williams go on for many more weeks. Everyone should have them.

  10. 10
    CL Fornari:

    Yes! Especially if you have a cottage-style garden. I’m hoping that mine are still in full bloom at the end of June so I can use them as wedding flowers for a friend’s wedding. Kate said she wants “lots of colors” so they’d be perfect in the table arrangements.