Sweet William

Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) member of the Caryophyllaceae family is as popular as cut flower as a garden plant. Usually grown as a bi-annual it will grow foliage the first year and then blooms the second year. Sometimes it’s a short lived perennial but when given a chance, it will reseed itself generously and behave like a long lasting perennial.

I have found it fairly easy to take care of this colorful friend which I give a place in full sun. I usually seed them indoors in late winter as they transfer well after all danger of frost has gone. Springs brings plenty of rain here in the NW, so this early summer bloomer only needs a little water during a early, long dry spell. By the time the hottest days or August roll around, my Sweet William has gone dormant after producing copious amounts of seeds.

Possibly because I pick almost all flowers for cutting, my plants tend to bloom for several years in a row, so I leave them overwintering in the hope they will bloom early next year. When some plants turn yellow or look ragged I pull them up and add a little mulch to the area and sometimes seed a bit of Red Clover in these bare spots during the winter. I like using this cover crop, it is so useful as it fixes the nitrogen in the soil so it can be taken up by other crops. Simultaneously they prevent weeds from growing. The beauty of Red Clover in bloom should not be underestimated! Blooming occurs in this cover crop a little before the Dianthus starts to shoot up it’s own blooms, so I enjoy the show of bright red Clover plumes for a little while but I make sure to cut out these plants before they start producing seeds.

Crimson clover
Close up of beautiful Crimson clover ( Trifolium incarnatum)

Their roots however should stay in the ground for a while as this is where the nitrogen-fixing nodules are located, so let these little stumps die down naturally. You can plant new plants from the greenhouse in-between the clover stumps at this time.



Sweet William originally hails from southern Europe and was cultivated by monks as early as the 1100‘s and in the 16th century Sweet William was used in the gardens of Henry the Vlll’s Hampton Court Palace. It has now widely naturalized in Europe as well as North America. The development of this Dianthus for the floral industry came in the 18th and 19th century.
It was John Gerard a 16th century botanist and herbalist who first referred to Dianthus barbatus as ‘Sweet Williams’ in his 1596 garden catalog.


The name ‘Dianthus’ comes from the Greek, ‘dios’ meaning ‘divine’ and ‘anthos’ is ‘flower’. The epithet ‘barbatus’ means bearded and all sources checked explains that this name refers to the fuzzy or beard-like growth at the flower’s center. However I have my doubts about that concept as this fuzzy growth in the center is nothing else but the stamen of the flowers. I rather think that  the beard-like growth that forms as the flower develops, is the root of the name. However I have not been able to find any reference to such a claim.


The petal are considered edible and have a mild clove like flavor. They do well in fish dishes, marmalade and cold drinks, ice cream and more. They also shine in desserts, soups, stews, sauces or tossed in a salads and of course are perfect for decorating or adding to cake.
It is better to remove the white heel at the base of the petal, this part has a bitter taste.
Dianthus species contain flavonoids in their petals.

Image courtesy of The Chef Mother edible flowers.

Medicinally Dianthus barbatus is used in Homeopathy as well a Chinese herbal medicine as a diuretic for urinary tract infections.

The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, lepidoptera such a Moths and Butterflies.

Lupines, sweet william
Lupines and Sweet William

For the florist Sweet William can be stored at 34-36F for 7-10 days, both dry and wet storage can be equally effective. Sweet William makes a perfect mass or filler flower in many bouquet combinations. Pairing them in a seasonal bouquet with Snapdragons, Foxglove or Lupines and Allium, Roses and/or Peonies is always a winner. They might not play a mayor role but their intense colors stand out brightly  while offsetting the focus flowers with gusto. Their intricate flower clusters will draw you in for a closer look and then the faint clove like fragrance starts playing with your senses and all you can do is surrender to their charm.



Florists like to include Sweet William not only to express finesse or gallantry but Dianthus barbatus also asks subtly for a smile, which surely will be granted, how can it not?
Was is smiles that Cate Middleton hoped to see at her marriage to Prince William or was the inclusion of this flower a nod to her gallant prince William? Who knows? The duchess of Cambridge has not elaborated on her choice of bouquet flowers. However we can conclude that she likes to keep the season, Lilly of the Valley as well as the Sweet William, was certainly in season that April in 2011.

image courtesy of usmagazine.com

Sweet William can be propagated from seed, cuttings, or division, but keep in mind that seeds of cultivars will not breed true but can turn out to be a different color or pattern altogether. However Dianthus varieties do cross pollinate easily and hence many new hybrids have occurred over time.


Seed in your garden in late summer for blooms the next year or seed indoors in tray or small pots in late winter and plant after last frost. These plants may or may not bloom the first year.

Sweet William likes a place in in full sun to part shade, plant about six inches apart, in loamy, slightly alkaline soil. You can crowd them a little but not too much, else they become leggy. A good tip is to add some lime into the planting soil for stronger plants.

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 3-9.

Well that’s all for now folks, go out there and pick a few flowers.




Two Thousand Flowers A Day

Did you know that a Hummingbird has to visit one- to two thousand flowers per day, to get the nectar it needs for survival?  Some sources put the number even higher at up to four thousand flowers. Now you see why there should be flowers everywhere.

Hummingbird in Weigelia

Hummingbirds use their specialized beak and tongue to get to the nectar and they visit many different colored flowers but it is well known that Hummingbirds are especially attracted to a range of red, orange and pink, often tubular flowers. These flowers produce nectar in larger quantities. It has also been suggested that the reason for the focus on flowers in this narrow  color spectrum could be that  these Hummingbird-pollinated flowers are less attractive to most insects, the nectar is relatively weak and contains smaller amounts of glucose and fructose and higher proportions of sucrose.

picture of nectar robbing carpenter bee.
Nectar robbing carpenter bee

Insects pollinated flowers produce a more concentrated nectar, that is dominated by fructose and glucose, so this renders  these flowers less susceptible to damage from insects (or birds, or mammals). Sometimes critters that do not possess the specialized adaptations needed for the tubular shaped flowers then ‘steal’ the nectar by  biting or piercing a hole in the corolla, pollination is omitted in this process and is thus called ‘nectar robbing’.

If you want to attract Hummingbirds to your garden you have a choice of many different flower varieties to attract them. I am a cut flower grower, so I gravitate to these type of flower and there is no shortage of cut flower varieties that attract Hummingbirds as well.
The pink Weigelia in my backyard has been the main attraction for the little birds these last few weeks but now that the Columbine is starting to bloom, it seems thy are the favorite.
Soon Foxgloves and Lupines will play center stage for the Hummingbirds in the garden as well as in the bouquets created at Petal Passion. Later in the summer I look for Hummingbirds around the Penstemon, Kniphofia, Salvia’s, Crocosmia and Beebalm.

Flower gardening on the other hand seem to have taken a backseat for many, if not most gardeners these days. Sure we’ll see beds of Salvias or Candytuft and other landscaped flower beds. Big box stores and nurseries supply a steady stream of Pansies, Petunias and other perky looking, dwarf varieties of already blooming flower starts but compared to the popularities of vegetable gardening, flower gardening has taken an hiatus of late.

picture of vegetable bed
Raised Bed Vegetable Garden, no Hummingbirds here.

When we forget to leave some space for the flowers one thing we are neglecting to do is to grow the foods for our souls, which is  blazingly apparent when we look at the amount of uppers and downers it takes to keep this nation happy but that is a blog all on it’s own for another time. This blog laments the missing flowers that are needed to keep our pollinators alive and thriving. The plight of the Bees has been the topic of many articles and programs whose knowledge far surpasses mine, but the message is clear; we have to safe the Bees! The occurrence of colony collapse disorder has increased manyfold since 2006, the reason most likely is a combination of issues facing the Bees. One of these issues however is the disappearance of  of  the multi-culture habitats that include patches of nectar producing flowers on which the Bees depend. So get a cracking and plant legion, hordes, myriads of flowers, there can never be enough.

But back to the hummingbirds; If one Hummingbird needs to visit two-thousand flowers and day, her life literally depending on a cluster of fresh flower every ten minutes or so, we can not keep those flowers gardeners sitting on the back burner  waiting for the Master Gardeners to come up with a course on flower growing. They do not seem to be too interested in setting a trend but rather cater to demand.  So let’s start planting those flowers now, next to the beans or next to the bushes, dig up some lawn or leave out that zucchini (your friends will give you some anyways) and head out to that flower-seed stand today. Or let Petal Passion send you some seeds! Nothing will fill your senses as a stand of bright blooming flowers can.
Waiting any longer to indulge our senses and Hummingbird’s bellies will just burn our gardening buts.

hummingbird image


Cut-flowers seeds

Delphinium, Amaranth, Forget-Me-Not, Zinnia, Cosmos, Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate, Sweet William, Foxglove, Armenian Basket Flower, Osteospermum.

 We may be Oregonians through and through, shrugging off the copious rain, or maybe you're a transplant from a dryer region but either way, planning our summer garden is a great way to make it through these winter months with a little more ease.
This year make sure to plant a few cut flower seeds. Flowers in their bright and upbeat presence are a feast to the eye and food for the soul and when you gather the blooms and put them in vases, these cut flower varieties are the cherry on top in your home decor all summer long. Besides all these benefits to humankind, our friend the Bees and other pollinators will be so grateful you did. They will reward you with all their pollinator's might, promise. 
Do go and find a local garden store with a well stocked seed-racks, visit a flower loving friend and convince him or her to share some of their seed harvest or contact me at marianna@petalpassion.net I have a limited supply of the brightest blooms in town. These and many more varieties.


Flowers need bees and bees need flowers, a beautiful symbiotic relationship that has endured throughout the ages. For as long as we know pollinators have come to the flowers in search or nectar and pollen and in the process of feeding, they pollinate the flowers and thus ensure the plants’ and their own continuation.
The perfection of Mother Nature’s ways seems so apparent, and yet humanity took it for granted. Now it seems we have come to a point where the bees are disappearing.

picture of Bee in Hollyhock

If you want to help  the bees and other pollinators, it is best to provide a range of plants that will offer a succession of flowers, through the whole growing season, early bloomers, late bloomers and everything in between.
Following is a list of plants that are attractive for bees, starting with the natives but also some more exotic plants are listed, for as a floral designer, I need as much variety as possible. Keep in mind though that many popular plants are hybridized  and these often have reduced nectar and pollen production, so look for ‘open pollinated’ varieties if you can.

  • Aster Aster
  • Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia                             
  • Caltrop Kallstroemia
  • Creosote bush Larrea
  • Currant Ribes
  • Elder Sambucus
  • Goldenrod Solidago
  • Huckleberry Vaccinium
  • Joe-pye weed Eupatorium
  • Lupine Lupinus
  • Oregon grape Berberis
  • Penstemon Penstemon
  • Purple coneflower Echinacea
  • Rabbit-brush Chrysothamnus
  • Rhododendron Rhododendron
  • Sage Salvia
  • Scorpion-weed Phacelia
  • Snowberry Symphoricarpos
  • Stonecrop Sedum
  • Sunflower Helianthus
  • Wild buckwheat Eriogonum
  • Wild-lilac Ceanothus
  • Willow Salix
    • Basil Ocimum
    • Cotoneaster Cotoneaster
    • English lavender Lavandula
    • Giant hyssop Agastache
    • Globe thistle Echinops
    • Hyssop Hyssopus
    • Marjoram Origanum
    • Rosemary Rosmarinus
    • Wallflower Erysimum
    • Zinnia Zinnia

    This is by no means a complete list but a good start for sure and every single one of them will be welcomed by the pollinators in your area.

    Please be aware that any pesticide you use for these plants will likely be consumed by the pollinators, always best to refrain from pesticide use whenever possible.