January Flower: Carnation

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Each month has its own flower that carries a special meaning for those born in that month. The flower for the month of January is the carnation. You do not have to rush off to the nearest florist, however, to enjoy carnations. This flower can be easily grown in your own garden where you can enjoy its clove-like fragrance from the spring into the early fall.

The carnation (Dianthus spp.) can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. One myth claims that Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt as well as of childbirth, tore out the eyes of a shepherd who had surprised her while she was hunting. She quickly repented her rash action, though, and replaced his missing eyes with carnations.

The early Christians believed that carnations sprung up from the tears shed by the Virgin Mary as she watched Jesus carrying the cross on His way to the crucifixion. Consequently, many later paintings of Mary feature carnations. The association with the Virgin Mary may also be the reason that carnations are so frequently presented as symbols of motherhood.

Carnations are suppose to bring good luck to the woman to whom they are given. White carnations symbolize true love, while pink are traditionally given on Mother’s Day. (Pink carnations symbolize the never-ending love of a mother.) Red carnations are worn on Mother’s Day if one’s mother is alive, while white is worn if the mother is dead. (I can remember the first carnations that I ever received on Mother’s Day. I was pregnant with my first child and had to be hospitalized for a short while and was in the hospital on Mother’s Day. My own mother brought me carnations – one red for her and two white for each of my grandmothers).

Carnations are also known as pinks, but these cultivars can be found in colors other than pink. These particular cultivars, which are crosses of D. caryophyllus or the wild carnation and D. plumarius or the cottage pink, can also be found in white, rose, red, and bicolor. Blooms have a distinctive clove scent. I catch the scent from the carnations in my garden whenever I am outside during the warm summer months. Regular deadheading will encourage new blooms plus extend the bloom time.

Carnations have narrow leaves in a grayish or bluish-green color. They grow in mounds 4-18 inches high and create an evergreen mat that is perfect for the front of the border or in rock gardens. Plant them in rich, well-drained soil that is neutral to slightly alkaline. Do not mulch with bark. Opt for pine boughs in the winter to offer protection instead. Also avoid overhead watering unless you do so early in the morning so the leaves can have a chance to dry by evening. Divide ever 2-3 years. I have heard some say that carnations do not last for many years, but I have had mine for at least 10 years. I believe that regular division has kept them going well. (Crowded carnations can actually develop some diseases and attract bugs that could possibly lead to their demise.)

These plants are generally hardy in zones 3-10, depending upon the variety. They like full sun; although, in the more southern regions of the United States, they should be given some protection from the hot afternoon sun. I also have some planted in my zone 6 area in dappled shade, and they are doing quite well.

You might consider some of these varieties for your own garden:

Maiden pink ‘Zing Rose’ (D. deltoids). Single rose-red blooms. Zones 5-8.

Cheddar pink ‘Bath’s Pink’ (D. gratianopolitanus). Light pink blooms with dark eyes. Zones 4-9.


Rogers, Marilyn, ed. Beautiful Perennials. Des Moines, IA: Meredith Books, 2006, p. 138.


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