Flowers of the Gods
July 23 2021
The Greek word ‘dios’ means gods and ‘anthos’ means flowers, thus we have Dianthus or flowers of the gods, first cited by Theophrastus, a Greek botanist who was a student of Aristotle. Theophrastus, called the father of botany, wrote ten books about plants over 2300 years ago. Sorry if I’m being a bit pedantic here, but I find the meanings and sources of plant names fascinating. Dianthus are also known as pinks, think of their frilly edge and pinking shears. It could also be that our word pink actually originated from the flowers, which are frequently pink. Pinked pinks! Yes, it was a verb, “to pink”.
Sweet William is a dianthus, maybe named after Shakespeare or maybe Prince William, 18th century Duke of Cumberland. Apparently no one knows for sure, but it has a masculine flower meaning of bravery and gallantry. So many stories behind our common plant friends.
I bought a magenta colored Sweet William years ago and was told it was a biennial or short lived perennial. It’s still with me and has reseeded itself generously-enough that I weeded some out and gave some away. Since it didn’t bloom until it’s second year and the new seedlings also took two years to flower, it’s been quite a wait to see if the new plants stayed true to color. The answer is no, the new flowers are shades of red, darker than the originals, but all dark rich colors.
My gardens are usually in some stage of mild chaos because I let many plants reseed themselves and have no say in exactly where they might do that. Partially it is a reluctance to pull out errant plants and partly just wanting to see if genetics at work will give me a pleasant surprise. Besides Sweet William, I have coneflowers (echinacea), yarrows (colored ones), geraniums, Jacob’s Ladder, columbines, China asters, lavender, sunflowers, pasqueflowers, catananche, and poppies pop up (sorry, couldn’t resist) wherever nature puts them. It’s kind of like running into someone you know where you never expected them to be. And maybe, just maybe, it’s good to know that we don’t need to control everything. Let nature and the gods do their thing.
Dianthus barbatus, Sweet William
Dianthus chinensis, Pinks, both in the family Caryophyllaceae, Greek for ‘clove tree’, for their scent