PINKS and carnations -- the Dianthus tribe in general -- dream of sunny crystal dry air on the face of a limestone crag, rooting about in rotted stone and a bit of leaf mould.
The last place on earth they wish to grow is a muggy lowland garden on acid soil with old oaks casting some shade and with fat azaleas rummaging about in damp peat.
Pinks are ill suited, in other words, to acid woodland gardens, and they do not regard us well even if we saw down a few trees and let in the sun.
But often in town gardens I see half-barrels set here and there along a terrace or a walk, and often these vessels are planted with marigolds or geraniums for non-stop summer color, and that is fine.
If, however, you have had it up to here with their bright sunny faces, you might try pinks in the tubs.
A spade full of ground limestone, and enough gravel or sand to make the soil light, may be added to the barrel, along with some fully rotted leaves -- the grainy black kind you sometimes see at the edge of city alleys.
Occasionally gardeners who know no better have excellent success growing annual carnations from seed. More experienced gardeners, who do not expect success, usually fail. And I do not think it worth anybody's time and trouble to attempt the usual greenhouse carnations.
But there never was a gardener, surely, who did not melt a little at the very thought of the clove-scented pinks that you used to see everywhere in small city gardens, but that you rarely see now.
DIANTHUS PLUMARIUS, the pink that most gardeners remember from the old days (if indeed they remember anything), comes in white, off-white-tints of pink and tones of red. Usually white or light pink.
The petals are commonly fringed or pinked along the edge, and the flowers have an astonishing perfume.
"Clove" is as good as any other word to describe their perfume, but it is sweet, as well as spicy, and the flowers on 10-inch stems are fine for cutting. s
The plants form creeping mats of impressive gray-green leaves, not really gray, but gray enough to stand out among other greens.
No plant serves better along the edge of a paved walk to give that substantial well-tended old-world look.
If the soil is too rich, the mats spread out at a very satisfying, but then fungoid ills appear in sweltering summers and the gardener is chastened. He learns not to pump up the pinks too much with fertilizers.
Gritty soil with leaf mould, not fat soil with stable manure, is what pinks revel in.Or survive in. They are doing us a favor even to grow here.
They are easy enough to increase from cuttings, but the gardener does well not to get too satisfied too soon, and must resist the temptation to hurry them along with high culture. They respond well at first, then collapse.
Sometimes in small gardens you see a little retaining wall of brick or (and it need not always look awful) cinder block. Usually there is nothing very interesting hanging over the edge.
If the soil is made light, as I have suggested, the clove pinks flourish, rooting down by the cool inside face of the wall and flooping over the edge. There they rest their leaves against the dry face of the wall, or hang out in the air itself, so no moisture stays at the base of their curving stems even in wet weather. From time to time (if the plants get leggy) they are trimmed back, so they do not wander too far from home -- that is, the stems do not get long and bare.
One of the glories of the past was the laced pink, a double flower usually white, with each petal banded or laced in deep red.
And then, for many years, you never saw laced pinks. In our own day they are back again, thanks partly to the intensive breeding work of the firm of Allwood in England. There are also, nowadays, good strains of border carnations and other garden pinks, all of them superior to the variety available when I was young.
The thing to keep in mind, with all forms of Dianthus, whether dwarf or alpine or clove or carnation or laced or anything else, is that they do not like shade, dampness, heavy manured soil or peat. Light, a bit hungry (not starved, of course) and open to the sun; that's the recipe for pinks. Needless to say, you never mulch them.
Pinks are a very nice plant to illustrate a point about hardiness: They are perfectly hardy on light dry soils and perish wonderfully in heavy wet soils. Some gardners suppose, therefore, that pinks and carnations cannot take much cold. It's not that. But they cannot take much (or any) soggy clay.