by Charlene Burgi
Two weeks have passed since Valentine’s Day. The beautiful mixed bouquet of flowers sent by my dear husband is fading. The once bright fuchsia-colored gerbera daisy, purple tulips, deep red roses and white snapdragons performed their cheery job of bringing in a bit of sunshine during the cold winter days. However, there is still one type of flower that remains in the bouquet that is just as beautiful as the first day it came into the house – the carnation.
The history of this plant dates back to ancient Rome and Greece. The Romans saw the flower as a symbol of ardent love, while the Greeks held the plant in the highest esteem by using it extensively in garlands and coronets. The flower name is derived from these coronations.*
Carnations, botanically known as Dianthus, have been a part of my life for a long time. I remember that one of my Italian grandmothers had tall white carnations growing in her yard in San Rafael. Noni showed my sister Donna and me how to pick them and place them in a little glass filled with food coloring. Like magic, the white carnations would turn shades of green or blue or whatever color was in the glass. As children we were enchanted by the delight of this flower. And as an adult, I continue to be amazed by this plant and wonder why it is rarely seen in gardens.
Before moving to Lassen, I researched what plants would grow in Sunset’s zone 1A (a far cry from Marin’s zone 15-17). Surprisingly, carnations could make that transition from my garden as well as iris. Timing was critical for transplanting and working with the seasons, so many perennials were moved before we did. Leaving favorites behind was not an option!
When starting a new landscaped area, one starts planting with the trees and shrubs first, then fills in with perennials. The practice of planting perennials before developing the “bones” of landscaping is not recommended. Yet, I had to readdress this rule and, in hindsight, would suggest planting in containers first if you see this challenge in your future. I learned that it is difficult to work around small plants when planting from large containers of trees and shrubs. The larger plants offer some protection to the small perennials from wind, sun and snow.
Regardless, in the face of adversity and no protection, these gray-leafed beauties with an awesome delicate fragrance thrived despite the raw conditions of transplant, neglect, cold and heat, plus living among deer and rabbits. With inches of snow covering the ground, the foliage carried itself high and without blemish often seen with other evergreen perennials.
Consider carnations, whether you are looking for a filler, a border, fragrance in the garden or a symbol of ardent love. They come in many colors, shapes and sizes. The carnation is tough, which helps explains why it is known to be the oldest plant still cultivated today. Plant carnations, and you’ll discover just how wonderful they are.
I dedicate this blog to my sister Donna, who recently passed away.
* The Country Diary of Garden Lore by Julia Jones and Barbara Deer
Hold the Dates: Sustainable Landscape Workshops March 10 & April 14
Mark your calendar! We have two more FREE workshops coming up in our Sustainable Landscape series, co-sponsored by The Urban Farmer Store. Join us Saturday, March 10, for “From the Ground Up” to learn all about building healthy soil. Then come back Saturday, April 14, for “Irrigation Essentials” for tips on managing your irrigation system to get the most from every drop. Both workshops will be 10:00 a.m. – noon at the Mill Valley Community Center, 180 Camino Alto. Register for either one or both. Call 945-1521 to reserve your spot.