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Plant a Flower Day

Mar 12

Sweet William
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Sweet William
Dreer’s Select Large Flowering Sweet Williams. ‘Painted from nature’ by Louis Schmidt. Dreer’s 72nd Annual Edition Garden Book (1910).
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By designer Carol A.L. Martin, this tartan pays tributes to the beautiful colors in this favorite garden flower.

Sweet William is a form of dianthus barbatus, also more commonly known as carnations, or pinks.


Many legends purport to explain how Sweet William acquired its English common name, although none is verified.

The English botanist John Gerard referred to Dianthus barbatus as "Sweete Williams" in his garden catalogue of 1596.  Some have speculated that the flower was named after Gerard's contemporary, William Shakespeare. It is also said to be named after Saint William of York or after William the Conqueror. Another etymological derivation is that William is a corruption of the French oillet, meaning "little eye". 

Often planted with the flower Black-eyed Susan, there is a wildflower legend to explain the pairing, often linked to the poem "Black Eyed Susan," by John Gay (1685-1732),


"All in the downs the fleet was moored, banners waving in the wind. When Black-eyed Susan came aboard, and eyed the burly men. ‘Tell me ye sailors, tell me true, if my Sweet William sails with you.’

Click the botanical drawings for a version of one of these many ballads.