I’M PRETTY SURE I became a gardener so I could pick flowers with impunity. Once, on the way to school in the second grade, I gathered a small posy of pinks for my teacher. Rather than graciously receiving the offering of a shy student, my teacher scolded me in front of the class for stealing flowers. I was mortified.

The color pink gets its name from flowers in the genus Dianthus, commonly known as carnations or pinks, a reference to the serrate, or “pinked,” edges of the delicate, sweetly fragrant flowers. Available in a range of growing habits, pinks are perfect for outlining garden beds, adding to mixed container plantings or tumbling down the face of a rockery (beware petal-pinching 8-year-olds).

In addition to finding numerous perennial pinks on the shelves at your local nursery, several varieties are easy to grow from seed. All Dianthus produce blooms over a long season. The flowers have a long vase life and a delicious spicy scent often likened to cloves. The following varieties practically beg to be picked.

● Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) is a cottage garden favorite of gardeners and pollinators alike. The plants are biennial or short-lived perennials that produce rounded clusters of pink, rose, white or bicolored flowers starting in late spring from transplants or a previous year’s sowing. An exception to familiar color scheme, ‘Green Ball’ is a unique variety prized by floral designers, with fuzzy, lime green flower heads. ‘Sooty’, with velvety dark maroon blossoms above dramatic bronze foliage, is another floral favorite.

● Garden pinks (Dianthus plumarius), sometimes called cottage pinks, are evergreen perennials with a mat-forming growth habit. Foliage color ranges from deep green to a glaucous blue green. Knobby, branching stems that grow 10 to 12 inches tall are topped with three to five buds. Flowers might be single — often with a dark contrasting eye — semidouble or fully double, and they range in size from diminutive 1-inch blooms to larger flowers that can reach 2 to 3 inches across.


● Old-fashioned, long-stemmed carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) with fabulously fragrant flowers are best left to seasoned flower farmers who are willing to stake or otherwise support the large blooms to keep them from flopping.

● Smaller varieties often seen festooning established rockeries include cheddar pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus), maiden pinks (D. deltoides) and China pinks (D. chinensis). All provide a low cushion of tidy evergreen foliage and continuous blooms, especially if faded flowers are removed (or picked!).

● Unlike their tufted kin, fringed pink (Dianthus superbus) is a bit lanky with a sprawling habit, but the delicate lacy flowers can’t be beat for their potent perfume. Perennial but short-lived, fringed pinks are easy to grow from seed, and they flower in their first year.

Dianthus thrive in a sunny garden with well-drained soil. Once established, the plants are drought-tolerant and hardy. Mulching with gravel or a coarse grit helps protect foliage and prevent crown rot. And please, pick freely.