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Let Loose with Scissors: Sweet, sweet Williams

As we celebrate British Flowers Week, there are lots of big, beautiful and bold blooms to grab our attention; oversized alliums, lovely lupins and stately delphiniums. But there are also more humble and just as lovely UK-grown flowers which shouldn’t be overlooked, such as pretty, scented Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus).

Long-lasting, cheerful and inexpensive, Sweet Williams are in season in the shops and in the garden. I have a clump growing in my border which is just about to unfold into a burst of red, white and pink clusters that I know will fill the air with a pungent, clove-like scent. Can’t wait!

But why ‘Sweet William?’ No-one is really sure; some say it’s a reference to Shakespeare, but it’s more likely to be an Anglicisation from the French word ‘oeillet’ which means both ‘eyelet’ and ‘carnation.’

Caring for your Sweet Williams.

  • Temperature: Cool, 2-5°C, and out of direct sunshine.

  • Re-cut stems between the nodes for maximum water uptake.

  • Remove all foliage in contact with water, as it will pollute, especially in warm weather which will shorten the flower’s vase life.

  • Change water every 2-3 days and add flower food.

  • Very sensitive to ethylene gas, so keep away from mature fruit and older flowers.

  • The peppery scented flowers are edible, and can be added to summer salads, cocktails or used to decorate cakes.

In the Victorian language of flowers, Sweet William stands for gallantry, one of the reasons it was chosen to be included in the wedding bouquet of Kate Middleton when she married Prince William in 2011.

Enjoy your flowers!

Sunflower Su


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