Dianthus, flower of God

perennial Dianthus

annual Dianthus

Dianthus means flower (anthos) of God (Dios).

Of all the flowers in the world, what makes Dianthus so strikingly divine? Carl Linnaeus, the 18th century Swede who instituted binomial nomenclature, the system that gives every plant and animal a Latinized name, was responsible for the Dianthus appellation. However, nothing in his notes explains why he chose this particular name for this particular plant.

Yet the answer may be found in the distinctive fragrance of dianthus, carnations, and cloves, which are close botanical relatives. Dianthus, a garden staple, is not generally known for its scent but if you put your nose up close to one of its flowers, you will nasally acknowledge a hint of cloves. And it is also likely that the Dianthus sniffed by Linnaeus was a perennial type similar to the carnations of our own day, whose fragrance is undeniable.

There are five senses and all of them were corrupted in the Garden of Eden, except for the sense of smell, which remained pure. The explanation for this was provided by Isaac Luria, a 16th century mystic who lived in Safed, a town in Galilee, in northern Israel. According to Luria, the description of Adam’s creation is proof that the sense of smell is a soul quality that is inextricably linked to God and therefore incorruptible. “And the Lord God created Adam from the dust of the earth and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life, and Adam became a living being” (Genesis 2:7) Since God blew the soul of life into Adam through his nose, that organ and its function must remain forever pure. I cannot promise that a whiff of Dianthus, carnations, or cloves will purify your soul, as it apparently did for Linnaeus, be it’s definitely worth a try.

Regardless of how you evaluate the scent of Dianthus flowers, or whether you are anosmic altogether, you might want to consider planting them for a flower display that will last from now until the fall. Flowers are typically patterned symmetrically in red and white or pink and white, and are available in solid colors, too, including violet-purple. Flower petals are always charmingly saw-toothed. The most commonly seen Dianthus are annuals but there are also perennial ground cover varieties with pink-magenta, mini-carnation type blooms and chalky blue foliage. These perennials are easily propagated by division of root clumps or by layering, which involves bending a shoot until it makes contact with the soil. Clamp the bent shoot to the soil and, after roots begin to form at the point of contact, dig up and detach the rooted shoot and plant it in a container or elsewhere in the garden.

You want to be careful not to moisten Dianthus foliage or allow mulch to rest anywhere near the Dianthus plants since any contact of leaves or stems with water is likely to bring on mildew. To increase bloom, remove flowers as soon as they are spent. Dianthus may be grown in full sun close to the coast but appreciates some sun protection or a lightly shaded exposure in our interior valleys.

“I have gophers in the back garden. It’s only one mound of dirt but I leveled it out and it’s back to being a mound. No gopher has emerged. What do you suggest I do?”
Rhoda Rosa, Woodland Hills

The fanned-up mound you see in your garden is the soil excavated by the gopher while tunneling. Your mound is at the end of a side tunnel that angles up from the main run. To locate the main run, find the plug or exit hole of your mound. The exit hole is always at the lower, flatter side of the mound.
With a sharp stick or metal bar, probe eight to 10 inches away from the plug, in a semi-circle, on the plug side of the mound. When your probe hits the main run, it suddenly drops two to three inches. Dig up the soil until you uncover the gopher run and then set two traps in it pointing in opposite directions.

Use rocks to cover the two openings of the run where the traps are placed or lay a board over the entire excavation and put loose soil around the edges to exclude light and breezes.. If the gopher senses light or the slightest air movement, it will push soil in the direction of the disturbance, springing the trap shut.

Before touching the traps you are about to set, put on gloves. You also might sift soil over the traps to take away your scent. A gopher has an extraordinary sense of smell to compensate for its virtual blindness and will stay away from a trap that has any trace of human scent. It is a good idea to tie strings between traps and above ground stakes. This will make it easy to retrieve your traps, which should be checked daily. Gophers have been known to abscond with unsecured traps.

Gophers are extremely territorial, which is good news if you have a gopher problem. Even if you begin to see more mounds in your backyard, it is probably the work of a single animal, since one gopher will inhabit an area as large as 1,000 square feet. The many crisscrossing burrows made by the gopher form an elaborate underground network. The word gopher comes from gaufre, a French word for honeycomb.

Gophers can be kept out of small garden areas by exclusion. Enclose the area with half-inch mesh wire that extends two feet below and two feet above ground level. There is also some evidence that a frisky pet cat or dog, patrolling your garden, will keep gophers away.

Tip of the Week: I recently discovered a startlingly different sort of Dianthus known as ‘Green Ball’ or ‘Green Trick.’ This is a perennial Dianthus that yields grassy green, fluffy pompons throughout spring and summer. ‘Green Ball’ is a wonderful contrasting addition to any flower bed and makes an exotic interior decoration, too.. Placed in a vase where water is changed every few days and ‘Green Ball’ will stay fresh for one month. As with any vase arrangement, remove leaves that would otherwise be submerged in water.

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