Columbia Road Market 71
Each year at this time, I buy some Pinks from Columbia Rd to add to my small collection of Dianthus, for just a couple of pounds each. And to better appreciate the detail and scent of my new prized acquisitions, I keep them on the dresser for a few weeks in some of my old pots that I have found in the market, before I plant them out at the edge of a dry border in the hope to see them bloom again next Summer. In fact, the luscious Whatfield Ruby that I bought last year at Columbia Rd for three pounds has just finished flowering in my garden.
These distinctive flowers have been in cultivation since the medieval period (Shakespeare calls them “gilliflowers”). And the verb “to pink” dating from the fourteenth century, meaning to perforate – as in “pinking shears” – may be the origin of the common name, referring to their denticulated petals. In turn, the word “pink” as a colour may originate from these flowers that come in such elegant variety, and I love the subtle range of tones from sugared almond to coral, perfectly complemented by their silvery, grey green stems and narrow leaves.
Pinks evoke memories of my mother and grandmother’s gardens, where both had a cherished corners for Dianthus, and I always love to see them in the wild too, in their spindly natural incarnation – whether in the Hebridean machair, upon the cliffs in Dorset or high on the Pyrenees. Rich in association of many times and places, it lifts my spirits to encounter their subtle clove-like scent when I walk into the room each morning. These Pinks have brightened my house through the dullest cloudiest days this June.