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Sweet William

Dianthus barbatus

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Caryophyllaceae (Pink)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Gardens, meadows, roadsides, sand dunes, wasteland, woodland.

Red, 5 petals
Flowers grow together in compact clusters of about 30. The dark red petals have serrated edges and are white at the base. The flowers are usually red but sometimes other colours. The flowers are each about 3cm in diameter. Pollinated by bees, butterflies and moths.
The fruit is a narrowly oval capsule with 4 teeth around the mouth. It produces numerous tiny seeds. The dark brown seeds ripen in September and October. The plant is self-seeding.
A short-lived perennial flower sometimes encountered growing wild as a garden escape. The leaves are bluish-green, narrow and tapering to a point. They measure up to 10cm long and 2cm wide. There are 2 varieties of Sweet William: (1) Dianthus barbatus barbatus which has leaves up to 2cm wide, and (2) Dianthus barbatus asiaticus whose leaves are less than 1cm wide.
Other Names:
Bearded Pink, Bloomy Down, London Pride, London Tufts.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Dianthus barbatus, also known as sweet William or bearded pink, is a species of flowering plant in the family Caryophyllaceae. It is native to the Mediterranean region and Central Asia. It is a herbaceous perennial plant that typically grows to 30–60 cm (12–24 in) tall, with a clump-forming habit. The leaves are blue-green, linear to lanceolate and glabrous. The flowers are typically pink, red or white, with a fringed or bearded corolla, and bloom in the summer. They are often used as cut flowers, border plants or as a cottage garden plant. They are also known for their sweet fragrance.


Sweet William, also known by its scientific name Dianthus barbatus, is a beautiful and fragrant flower that belongs to the Carnation family. It is a popular garden plant and a favorite of many gardeners due to its sweet fragrance and vibrant colors.

Sweet William is native to Europe, but it has been cultivated and grown in many parts of the world. It is a biennial plant, which means that it has a two-year life cycle. In the first year, it grows a rosette of leaves, and in the second year, it produces its characteristic flowers. The flowers come in a wide range of colors, including pink, red, white, and purple, and they have a pleasant fragrance that is often described as spicy, clove-like, or honey-scented.

One of the most striking features of Sweet William is its foliage. The leaves are long and narrow, with a blue-green hue that provides a beautiful contrast to the brightly colored flowers. The plant can grow up to two feet tall, and it has a bushy, clumping habit that makes it an excellent choice for borders, beds, and containers.

Sweet William is an easy plant to grow, and it requires minimal care. It prefers full sun to partial shade and well-draining soil that is moist but not waterlogged. It is also tolerant of a wide range of soil types, including clay, loam, and sandy soils. The plant is relatively drought-tolerant, but it should be watered regularly during dry spells.

Sweet William can be propagated by seeds, which should be sown in the spring or fall. The seeds should be planted about 1/8 inch deep and kept moist until they germinate. Once the plants have germinated, they can be thinned to a spacing of 6-12 inches to allow for proper growth and development.

In addition to being a beautiful ornamental plant, Sweet William also has a rich history of medicinal and culinary uses. The plant has been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive issues, respiratory problems, and skin conditions. The flowers and leaves are also edible and can be used to flavor salads, soups, and desserts.

Sweet William is a lovely and versatile plant that is easy to grow and adds beauty and fragrance to any garden. Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a beginner, Sweet William is an excellent choice for your garden or landscape. With its striking foliage, vibrant flowers, and pleasant fragrance, Sweet William is sure to delight your senses and bring joy to your outdoor space.

Facts about Sweet William

Here are a few more interesting facts about Sweet William that you might find fascinating:

  • The name "Sweet William" is believed to have originated from the 18th-century English ballad "Barbara Allen," in which the character Sweet William wears a pink clove in his hat.

  • Sweet William is also known as "pinks" because of the fringed edges of its petals, which resemble the edges of pinking shears.

  • Sweet William is a popular flower for cut arrangements, as its flowers can last up to two weeks in a vase. They are often used in floral displays, bouquets, and corsages.

  • Sweet William has been cultivated in gardens for over 500 years and was a favorite of the famous botanist and gardener John Gerard in the 16th century.

  • Sweet William is an important source of nectar for bees and butterflies, making it a valuable plant for pollinators.

  • In traditional medicine, Sweet William has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including insomnia, fever, and toothaches.

  • There are several cultivars of Sweet William, including the popular 'Auricula-eyed' variety, which has flowers with a dark center surrounded by a lighter color.

  • Sweet William is a popular flower in the language of flowers, where it represents gallantry, finesse, and admiration. It's often given as a gift to express affection and gratitude.

  • Sweet William is not just a garden plant; it's also a commercial crop that's grown for its essential oil. The oil is used in the fragrance industry to add a spicy, clove-like note to perfumes and other scented products.

  • In addition to its ornamental and medicinal uses, Sweet William has been used in the textile industry to dye wool and silk. The flowers produce a pinkish-red dye that was popular in medieval times.

  • Sweet William is a natural companion plant for vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage. It's believed to repel pests and improve the health and flavor of the companion plants.

  • Sweet William has several common names in different parts of the world. In Australia, it's called "London pride," while in Japan, it's known as "Chinese pink." In some parts of the United States, it's called "carnation," which can be confusing, as carnations are a different species in the same family.
  • Sweet William has inspired many poets and writers over the centuries. It's mentioned in Shakespeare's play "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and in poems by William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Robert Burns.

In conclusion, Sweet William is a fascinating plant with a rich history and many uses. Whether you're interested in gardening, herbalism, or fragrance, there's something to appreciate about this beautiful and versatile flower.


Sweet William filmed at Glasson Dock in Lancashire on the 30th July 2023.


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