Sweet William

Dianthus-ThumbnailThe Sweet William plants growing in my greenhouse for next spring have already produced some flowers . They were ready for planting outside in early autumn but I decided to leave them inside when I saw buds developing. I’ve had a few flowers for the house already and today I cut some more. 


Dianthus LinkSweet William Dianthus barbatus  are very popular flowers for country gardens and are often treated as biennials like Forget-me-nots and Foxgloves. Seed suppliers encourage us to grow new plants each summer for flowering in spring the year after. Well they would wouldn’t they!

Usually biennials are discarded after flowering, particularly when the gardener wants the space for summer flowering annuals.

Experts say that vigorous new plants produce much better flowers. Once the first flowering is over they should be pulled up and composted they suggest. Well that’s one point of view but like most things in a garden there’s always an alternative. If you don’t want to replace them with other plants their evergreen foliage will last all winter and they will flower again for you the following spring.

In fact Sweet Williams are actually short lived perennials. They will last for a few years in most gardens if you leave them to carry on growing and flowering. And luckily for us, the more flowers you cut for your vase the more flowers the plants produce. They are perfect plants for a country style garden.


It’s only a tiny vase but that’s all you need for these pretty short stemmed flowers. I’m leaving the plants in the greenhouse a little while longer… fingers crossed that I may get a few more flowers before it turns colder.

To see lots more vases full of flowers and foliage have a look at Cathys lovely Blog Rambling in the Garden then just scroll down to the comments to see links for each garden blogger.

Happy Gardening!    Gillian 🙂

17 thoughts on “Sweet William

  1. That is so pretty Gillian, and thank you so much for the info on sweet williams. I have some in pots that look too leafy to get rid of so I might plant them elsewhere. I have grown some from seed too and mine are still in the greenhouse so I might just go and inspect them for buds tomorrow! Will you plant any of yours out now, or leave them in the greenhouse all winter?

    1. Thanks very much Cathy. I’ll hedge my bets by waiting for the remaining buds to flower then I think I’ll take a few cuttings (of non-flowering shoots) and keep those in the greenhouse all winter. My greenhouse is unheated so the mature plants should be ok to go outside in a sheltered spot. It’s quite mild here on the west coast of England and often even tender plants survive. These hardy dianthus will probably be fine.

  2. A very pretty vase Gillian and thank you for this interesting information. I do leave sweet williams in the garden year after year and find they flower well, but I have never thought of forcing them in a greenhouse. I have already planted out this years new seedlings but next year I will try keeping some in the greenhouse. I remember reading that Vits Sackville West forced a variety of hardy annuals in her greenhouse for November and December.

    1. Thanks Julie. This forcing malarky was unplanned but a nice bonus. I think it’s well worth experimenting a bit with a few plants, especially if you’ve grown them yourself and have plenty.

  3. Very pretty Gillian! I do leave these Dianthus in the ground year-round (but then I live in Southern California). I usually lose some but a few always come back and bloom again – at least for another year.

  4. Hi, Sweet William are one of my favorite cottage garden flowers and I’m so pleased with the various hybrid experiments the hybriders seem to be making. Gillian, would you say that a Sweet William bed in the front of the garden (in the lower front areas) is a hallmark of an English Collage Garden? I’ve always thought so, but never without a real English gardener to enlighten me! Charming hybrid you are growing in your greenhouse. I love it when the plants begin to mound and form almost a tender perennial in our zone.

    1. Sweet Williams are certainly very popular. They are so easy to grow and so rewarding. The first English cottage gardens were a real jumble of plants with fruit, vegetables and flowers all mixed in together. Design didn’t come into it. The priority was growing plants to eat and herbs for medicinal use… but who could resist a lovely clump of flowers too. Gardeners employed at the big houses where there were ornamental gardens pinched a few cuttings and collected seeds and passed them around to their friends and neighbours. Just like us they popped them in where they could find a little space.

  5. What in the blue blazes is THAT Avatar? I guess the system didn’t like my making a slight variation…..geez. The computers are taking over and I don’t like it one little bit.

    1. Sorry about the avatar Susan. WordPress lets the blog owner choose monsters or a sort of snowflakey thing for each person without their own avatar. I agree that photos of real people are better!

  6. I always grow Sweet Willliams in memory of my father-in-law as they were his favourite. The foliage doesn’t last well here over winter and usually ends up a soggy mess. However, miraculously, the plants survive and I have had them last for several years as you say, and they flower as good as ever. I have never tried taking cuttings, not having a greenhouse, but maybe I could just keep them in a sheltered spot and see what happens. Your little vase looks perfect for them. Beautiful.

    1. Thanks Annette. I have lots of plants that remind me of lovely people. My greenhouse is never heated and I manage to grow all sorts mainly because it shelters the plants from continuous wet conditions. It’s certainly worth trying cuttings. I’m sure the secret is to use a small pot and pop lots of cuttings in it so there’s not too much soggy compost around each plant.

  7. Your choice of flowers and vase is really pretty Gillian, how lovely to have the bonus of flowers in the Autumn too.

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