Sweet William Flower: a Royal Touch for Your Garden

shutterstock 457228291 FloraQueen EN Sweet William Flower: a Royal Touch for Your Garden

The sweet william is a flower of the gods that brings divine blooms to your garden. They grace informal gardens with a joyful, lightheartedness. Use fresh-cut sweet williams in your floral arrangements to bring passion and love into the home. Their delicate flowers pull you in for a closer look and reward you with a spicy scent.

When you read this article, you can learn about:

* Characteristics of the Sweet William
* History of the Sweet William
* Symbolism
* Planting and Care
* Propagating

Characteristics of the Sweet William

The sweet william flower is part of the carnation family and is one of the oldest plants to be cultivated. The sweet william is a biennial plant, meaning it lives for two seasons. In the first season, the seed germinates and develops green growth. In the second season, the plant produces flowers and makes seeds.

The flowers of the sweet william bloom from spring through late summer. Their sweet, clove-like smell attracts pollinators such as bees, birds, and butterflies. The flowers burst with colors such as red, purple, pink, white, and variegated two-toned patterns. They bloom in clusters of up to 30 flowers each with five ruffled petals. Not only are they beautiful in both your garden and in arrangements, but they are also edible.

The sweet william plant can reach heights from 1 to 2 feet. This height adds visual interest in your garden and makes it a perfect choice for arrangements.

History of the Sweet William

The sweet william is native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. It has been cultivated for the last 1000 years. It was common all the way back to the Greek and Roman era where it is depicted in may friezes which decorate buildings of importance. The sweet william was also woven into garlands which were used on special occasions. The sweet william, dianthus, was given the name from the combination of Greek words. Dios for gods, and Anthos for flower, when combined means “flower of the gods.”

Since Greek and Roman times, many stories and myths have surrounded the flower. One story claims the origin of the flower comes from the time of William the Conqueror because sweet williams covered the hills of Normandy where he was victorious.

Other origin stories claim the flower is a tribute to William Shakespeare who lovingly wrote: “for checking gardens as well as personal adornments.”

And yet another myth tells of the inhuman treatment of the King’s enemies at the Battle of Culloden, the Scotts call the flower the “stinking Billy.”

King Henry VIII ordered sweet williams to be planted at his castle at Hampton Court. Since then, sweet williams have been grown and cultivated in many English gardens for hundreds of years.


The sweet william is considered a flower of the gods. It symbolizes admiration, passion, love, and gratitude.

In Victorian times, the sweet william symbolized gallantry.

Catherine of Middleton included sweet williams in her bridal bouquet as a tribute to her bridegroom Prince William.

In Greek Mythology, Dianna, goddess of the hunt, was out searching for game when a flute-playing shepherd scared away her prey. In anger, she plucked his eyes out and threw them to the ground. Red flowers grew where the eyes fell as a symbol of innocent blood.

Planting and Care

The sweet william is an easy plant to grow and take care of. It prefers cooler climates and a location in your garden that has full sun and well-draining soil. It is a great plant for establishing a cottage-style garden or for use as a border plant. It also does well in rock gardens.

To start the plant from seed, simply take the seeds and scatter them in the area you want plants. There is no need for digging, simply press the seeds into the soil ensuring they have firm contact with the soil. Once the plants have developed two to three leaves, spread the plants out so they are positioned 8 to 12 feet apart.

Deadhead the flowers once they whither to encourage new growth. Be sure not to overwater; if the leaves turn yellow, it is a sign that you have used too much water. Overwatering can also cause root rot from which there is no recovery. In addition to a lot of sunlight, the plants also prefer free air movement around the stems. And finally, fertilize every six to eight weeks.

Red clover is a great companion plant when plants have turned yellow or died. Pull up the old plant, mix in some mulch and red clover seeds. The red clover adds nitrogen back into the soil and prevents weeds from growing in the area. The red clover blooms right before the sweet william. Enjoy the red clover blooms but cut them back before they start to produce seeds. Do keep the roots in the ground intact because that is where the nitrogen is concentrated. Let the stumps die naturally.


The sweet william flower can be propagated in several different ways. First is by seeds, as previously mentioned. You can get a jump start on the growing season by starting your seeds indoors two to eight weeks prior to the last frost. To get an early start, fill a small container with a loamy soil mix and scatter your flower seeds across the top. Then cover the layer of seeds with a very light layer of soil. Cover the soil with a plastic bag to heat the soil and keep it moist.

Once the seeds have sprouted and have at two to three leaves, move each plant to its own pot. Continue to grow them indoors until they are 4 to 5 feet tall. Once they have reached this height, they can be moved outdoors and planted in your garden.


Starting a cottage garden is as easy as scattering a few seeds and tapping them into the soil with the touch of your foot. Within weeks your garden explodes with clusters of red and purple and pink blooms that attract butterflies and other pollinators.

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