Dianthus barbatus

Dianthus barbatus

Dianthus is a large family of scented free-flowering plants, mostly perennial in nature. D. barbatus (or sweet william) is one of the two forms best grown as a biennial. The other is D. chinensis (Indian pink).

Family: Caryophyllaceae (pink or carnation family)
Botanical Name: Dianthus barbatus
Common Names: Sweet william, bearded pink

Foliage: Narrow greyish green leaves.

Flowers: Dense heads of showy fragrant blooms on tall erect stems. Usually in mixed shades of cream, white, pink, red and crimson. Often bicolour (or ringed banded) with a lighter or deeper tone.

Flowering Period: Mid-summer.

Soil: Well-drained soil (sand or loam). Alkaline to Neutral pH.

Conditions: Best in full sun.

Habit: Bushy.

Type: Normally grown in the UK as a biennial or short-lived perennial.

Origin: Southern Europe and parts of Asia.

Hardiness: Fully hardy throughout the UK.

Planting and Growing Dianthus barbatus

Grow in a well-drained neutral to slightly acidic soil, in full sun. Best planted in a south, east or west facing aspect in a sheltered location.

Being salt spray and pollution tolerant, sweet williams are useful plants for city, town and coastal gardens.

Excellent cut flowers with firm stems.

Taking Care of Dianthus barbatus

Keep well watered in dry spells.


Deadhead regularly to extend the flowering period and prevent self seeding.

Pests and Diseases

Susceptible to attack by aphids, slugs and caterpillars. Leaves are prone to rust disease.

Propagating Dianthus barbatus

Sow seeds in the autumn where they are to flower.

Popular Varieties of Dianthus barbatus Grown in the UK

A number of Dianthus barbatus varieties are available, mainly medium height 1 to 2ft (30 to 60cm) but many good dwarf forms can also be found.

'Auricula-Eyed Mix' a vigorous growing variety in shades of pink, red and crimson. Height to 18in (45cm).

'Barbarini' a compact, sweetly scented variety, white to deep purple and crimson flowers. Height to 4 to 8 in (10-20cm). Available from Suttons.

'Excelsior Mixed' a mixture of white, pink, red and crimson. Height to 18in (45cm). Available from Thompson & Morgan.

'Indian Carpet Mixed' in a mix of colour from white to pinks and reds. Height up to 6in (15cm). Available from Thompson & Morgan.

'Pinocchio' dwarf double-flowered in a mix of colours. Annual variety. Height up to 6in (15cm). Available from Suttons.

'Summer Sundae' a wide mix of colours. Height up to 2ft (60cm). Available from Thompson & Morgan.