Friday, 4 July 2008


That's not pink! It's violet! I hear you screaming. 

Well that's the wonderful various and slightly dotty world of pinks and carnations, as evidenced by the day devoted to them I attended at Wisley recently. A fairly eccentric world, yes, and one full of the kind of characters you would have to spend hours making up if you were to write a Radio 4 afternoon play devoted to the subject. (I'm already onto it.)

On the Trials field, fans were being asked to "Pick the Pink you think has the best fragrance" , with the 11.30am winner being declared "Lady in Red", a pink from the tippety-top Whetman stable. 

Up at the Hillside Events centre (the scout-hutty-looking building up by the Maize Maze) lots of different talks were going on as well as plant sales and the competitive classes. You could hardly get a more home-made feeling event as exhibitors, salespeople for plants, speakers and audience for talks all turned out to be the same friendly people running from thing to thing. 

What I would say about the British National Carnation Society, which hosts these events, is that is has an amazing website totally crammed with useful growers' info. And they long for new members, I can just tell. Possibly from the way they stalked me round the building in deep excitement, exclaiming "we've got someone here under fifty!" No, now I'm being naughty.

My favourite thing on their website is Brian Yates' Living Diary of growing pinks in windowboxes. However, on the day itself the person who charmed me was Jim Marshall, Malmaison specialist. He persuaded me to shell out for a couple of "Storm" Malmaisons which are a deep grey blushed with a tiny bit of pink, like a sunset on a thundery evening. 

I wouldn't have had the courage to do this without several informative talks on the subject of how to look after them: shown in the pic is Peter Booker (I think!) talking about how to go from seed to flowering plant. 

But in the end Jim Marshall won my heart as he sturdily defended using peat-free mixtures for cuttings and said that he can bring his wife garden flowers every day of the year without ever buying them in Tescos. What a nice man. (Jim's wife Sarah used to be head gardener at Sissinghurst, no less, and is now spending her retirement building up the National Collection of Cedric Morris irises - see this month's Country Living for a gorgeous article on the subject.)

I love single plant societies, because to me they represent the heart of gardening at its most warm and enthusiastic. I bet some of them are hotbeds of jealousy and bad behaviour, but the National Carnation Society struck me as one of the nicest bunches of people I'd ever met: all very supportive and completely welcoming, even to me, an idiot who knows absolutely nothing. I really love pinks and sweet williams, but I never would have imagined that someone could get me to come round to the idea of carnations... They succeeded though.  

And look! I've found another use for a pineapple top! Only please make sure you centre it next time....

Top picture is Kessock Big Dazzler

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