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.




Sweet Peas

One of the very first plants to find a place in the ground for Petal Passion’s 2016 season is Sweet Peas Lathyrus odoratus, a cool weather annual native to Sicily, souther Italy and Aegean islands and I expect them to be blooming late May to early June, maybe longer if I get the successive plantings done in time. This year I am growing Royal Wedding and April in Paris.
Both of these cultivars were developed by the New Zealand flower breeder Dr. Keith Hammett who was able to combine the haunting perfume of old-fashioned Sweet Pea types with the taller varieties of Spencers, which feature the larger elegantly ruffled  blooms and have a more the vining nature.

picture or Royal Wedding Sweet Pea
Royal Wedding
picture f April in Paris Sweet Pea
April in Paris

I can hardly wait to fill my buckets with these fragrant flowers that are so popular for June weddings. They instantly give bridal bouquets a whimsical and romantic look with their curly tendrils and ruffled lines but they also work fantastically well in a slender, glass vase featuring just a single stem or display an abundance of them, as nothing brings back memories of Granny’s place like a bunch of these ‘Butterfly’ blooms in a wide mouthed mason jar.

In the language of flowers Sweet Peas indicate shyness in some instances but also ‘bliss’ and ‘delicate pleasure’. She is a symbol of departure after good times. With the scent of orange blossoms and honey, Sweet Peas make an excellent choice for a nosegays or Tussie Mussies.

I usually start my seeds in January, in my greenhouse. I have tried to seed in situ in fall but I find that the seeds get eaten, so therefore I germinate them in the greenhouse and plant them out as soon as I have a few inches of growth. This has worked well for me, making sure to plant them in full sun no later than early March as they like all the  sun exposure they can get while the hot and scorching midsummer sun has not materialized yet.

Although all parts of the edible pea can be consumed including the blossom, the blossoms nor any other part of the Sweet Pea is edible.



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.

March is for seeds.

For me the best time of the year is right now. March takes me inside my tiny but wonderful little greenhouse and I plant hundreds of seeds.

The system I improvised is set up with rope lights, fastened with twisty ties under a repurposed office ceiling grit, found at the Rebuilding Center at 3625 N Mississippi Ave. Such a great place to find stuff.

picture of rope lights under seed trays
Rope light for warming the soil

The rope lights keeps the soil warm enough to start many delicate seeds, the soil temperature gets up to a toasty 80F. When seeds need less heath, I stack more pieces of ceiling grit under the tray, this also brings it a bit closer to the light fixtures above the seed trays. For additional temperature control I can open or close the plastic curtains since the whole system is build in my old plastic-covered-shelves greenhouse that did years of duty before my sweet man build this  tiny greenhouse for me.

picture of the green house with plant deck
My new greenhouse with plant deck

This has been a long-wished-for-addition to my business infrastructure.

picture of inside my greenhouse
inside my greenhouse

Petal Passion has grown “organically” over many years in and around the family home. Stuff the kids outgrew, came in handy in my business. For instance an old red wagon that was handed down to my kids is now used almost daily for plant and bucket transportation.  The playroom became my studio.

picture of wagon being used for flower transport

And so the greenhouse was build on the footprint of the old trampoline that was disassembled and the parts were used in one of my garden beds.

The area under the trampoline already had housed a chicken run during the years it was in use, so it made sense to build the greenhouse in such a way that the chickens could still use the space. the deck comes apart when we need to get some of the chicken-pooped-on-soil for the gardens.

pictures of chickens pecking

Thanks to my family for supporting my flower passion for so many years already.

picture of my family