Sweet William – A Must Have for the Flower Border or Garden

Want that new flower bed or border to make a great show next spring? Want to add new life to an established flower border? Sweet William (Dianthus Barbatus), with its long blooming flowers that vary from pastel whites, rose, salmons, and pinks to red and burgundy with fringed and decorative petals, can help you. And it works with just about any style garden you have.

Sweet William in full bloom.

Sweet William in full bloom.

Weather permitting Sweet William will act like a perennial. Here in Virginia its a biennial: it grows its leaves the first season, winters over, and then blooms the following spring and early summer. I get about 60 days of bloom most years and sometimes more.

Although I could get a second flush of bloom from my Sweet William if I cut off the finished blooms and didn’t let it seed, I much prefer to allow the seed to form so I can sow again and keep it going.

When the flowers are finished and the seed is forming, I take a bag with me as I walk around my borders and shake the seed heads into the bags. Seeds that are mature will fall easily into the bag. I repeat the process a few more time each week, until I’ve collected the amount of seed I want.

I use to use a separate bag to store seeds from various colors. (I’m especially partial to the salmons which seem to be rare – at least they have been for me.) Much to my dismay, the seed doesn’t usually produce the same color flower as its parent. sw. wm. pinks and white and red

Seed sown now through early fall will grow and winter over (in zones 3 – 9) to give gorgeous blooms next spring and early summer.

Last year our winter was colder than any I remember. Looking at my borders, it appeared that Sweet William  had succumbed to the cold. I sure didn’t see the plants during or after January and the ones that were visible didn’t look good.

Sweet William carried my borders where they had lost the ornamental grasses to the cold.

Sweet William appeared and bloomed almost every where along the edges of my borders.

You can imagine my surprise when Sweet William appeared and bloomed almost every where along the edges in  May. It visually saved my borders that had lost their backdrop of ornamental grasses to the cold winter.

Once this flower graces your flower bed or gardens, you’ll never want to be without it!

If you don’t have any —plan to order Sweet William. And order enough that you can sow now and then sow again in late summer and fall for the best possible results.

Red Sweet Wiliams with iris.

Red Sweet Wiliams with iris.


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5 comments to Sweet William – A Must Have for the Flower Border or Garden

  • GardenDmpls

    Rather than collect the seed of my dianthus, I just let it self sow. It seems to come back every year just fine, without my having another plant to start under the lights.

  • Millard

    I was planning to purchase seeds for Sweet William this week, as I haven’t sown them in the garden for several years. We were busy with carnations and delphiniums. Thanks for your mental telepathy! The varieties in Europe are smaller but have more interesting colors. We always have problems with them if we have a dry spring as ours are flat-rooted plants. Your extensive mulching in therefore an excellent idea.

  • Theresa

    Hi Abby,
    Mine self sows also, but not always where I want it. So I broadcast seed along my borders to make sure I have a better chance of it making an appearance in the desired places. Also, in years past when I relied on it self-sowing, I didn’t have as much as I wanted.

    Hey Millard,
    Glad you’re going to add Sweet Willliam to the garden again.
    Thanks for the benefit of your experience about losing them in dry springs. I did lose most of mine one year when it was extremely dry with no rain in April. The thing is, I like them at the edges of my borders and sometimes that area does not have as much mulch as other parts. On the other hand, the seed doesn’t always come up in heavily mulched areas. I have to take the good with the bad, but they’re such great plants they’re worth a bit of effort.


  • Beth

    I sowed perennial wildflower mix (Eden Brothers) 2 years ago but nothing happened until this spring when it bloomed prolificly. Will I have to wait 2 years if I collect seed and sow in late summer?

  • Theresa

    You should get something by the spring after sowing in late summer.
    What is suppose to happen, doesn’t always happen — as you already know, Beth. 🙂

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