24 January 2023

Just as each month has an assigned birthstone, there are also flowers that are attributed to that month. For January, it is the carnation.

Considered as a symbol of faith, purity, sensitivity, and commemoration, carnations have been around for at least 2,000 years. Also called Gilliflower or Jove’s flower, they were incorporated into beverages to cure sadness. The metaphysics consider it a fire element and associate it with the sun. It was used in spells for protection and to remove negative energy.

Its botanical name is dianthus, which is Greek for “heavenly flower” and in 1753 Carl Linnaeus called it dianthus caryophyllus. Its common name is thought to have come from several sources. Corone is a type of garland, since it was often part of ceremonial crowns. It could also derive from Latin for flesh, due to its original light pink color.

In the Victorian era, flowers were used to express feelings. The expression for carnations varied by color but could be thought to represent love or fascination. Light red meant admiration, dark red for a deep love and white for pure love and good luck. Varigated stood for the regret of an unshared love. Purple indicate fickleness. However, in France the purple is traditional for funerals or condolences. In the era of May Day in socialist countries, a red carnation (as well as a red rose) symbolized the labor movement. In China it is often used in weddings.

In the United States on Mother’s Day, a red carnation is worn if mom is still with us or red if she has passed away. Korea has Parents Day when red and pink carnations are worn. In that country, they also represent admiration, love, and gratitude. St. Patrick’s Day brings out the green in all of us and Oscar Wilde was known to sport a green carnation quite often. At Oxford University the students will wear white carnations for the first exam, pink for all the others except for the last, when they wear red.

Carnations are the traditional flower for first wedding anniversaries.

Horticulturally carnations are a herbaceous perennial but can also be grown as an annual. There are many varieties and hybrids. They like cool summers. The slightly alcaline soil should be moist but well drained and rich in organic matter. They produce fragrant blooms in the middle of summer and the bloom period can be extended if the gardener will deadhead the plants. Also, cutting back, or pinching, the center of the plant will make it more bushy. It can be prone to rust and crown rot.

Standard carnations are those used by florists and they have a single, large bloom on a stem and grow to about 18 inches to two feet. There are also dwarf varieties and those called spray or miniature that only reach 9 inches to a foot but they have many more blooms. These smaller flowers are often used in home gardens and as border plants. They will survive as a perennial in growing zone 6 or greater. Finger Lakes is generally in zone 5 but, with luck, can be a 6.

If you want to try growing carnations from seed, you can start them indoors about six to eight weeks prior to the last frost date (for the Finger Lakes area that is between mid April and the end of that month). Sprinkle the seeds on the surface of potting soil and then use that soil to cover them lightly. Keep the seeds moist by misting. You can loosely cover the container with plastic for a greenhouse effect. You should see germination in about three days. As each individual plant sprouts two or three leaves, transplant to their own pot. Allow the plants to reach at least four or five inches before transplanting outdoors.

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