Perennial Notes Excerpts
This article first appeared in Perennial Notes Winter 1994.
The Story of Bath's Pink
In my work, the saddest thing that I see is people saying that they kill everything they plant. All of these people are striving for color and low maintenance, but mostly they want success. Success to them means plants that live and perform well.
All of us in GPPA have a passion for plants. The affliction hits at different time in our lives. Mine came at age eight when I received a German iris in a cellophane package. This package had a picture on it of a bright yellow iris and promised a glorious reward if only I would plant it. I did and it did! This initial success held to me strongly over the years when I branched out and success was sometimes elusive.
I have spent hours pouring over catalogs, then nervously ordering from them or digging up plants here and there. During this time I have found only one book, Low Maintenance Perennials, by Robert S. Hebb, that really dealt with gardening problems as I saw them. I was looking for plants that were disease free and non-invasive, required no staking, and had a long bloom time and good foliage. Most importantly, they had to be plants that would grow here in the South. Too often, this last item was never addresses since most written material was from other regions. Whatever the odds, my perennial search was on.
From the outset, pinks particularly attracted me. I bought every kind, both those available locally and through catalogs. Daystar had a particularly large offering, but it usually took only three years or less before all of them were gone or in decline. However, during the time that we were settling into a new home, a neighbor shared a pink with me. I planted it along with numerous other plant gatherings, but strangely this pink thrived in two locations - each site very different culturally from the other.
By this time my design business allowed me to go into many different garden situations. Besides sharing this pink with visitors to my garden, often I would tear off a piece in the early morning before leaving for a job and stick it in my pocket. While planting, if I thought the site warranted it, the pink was stuck in. I even mailed pieces of this plant in envelopes to customers, only for them to be surprised at their success.
My biggest gamble was asking my contractor to plant it at the main entrance to Emory University, my alma mater. It was a wild success in that spot for several years until progress took the site for an addition. When that happened, employees and patients begged and were given every piece of that pink that was torn out.
All of us in GPPA are aware of the exceptional abilities of Marc Richardson and Rick Berry at Goodness Grows. They too wanted successful plants to propagate and market and on one of their plant searches they came to my garden. At some point, either then or later, this pink was shared with them. The year was 1983.
It was obvious by then that I wanted this plant to be available to the public, but at that time I did not have the business capability to make it all happen. Marc and Rick at Goodness Grows did. First, they tested it in their own garden, then had it searched in the trade, and finally began propagating it in great numbers. They even had a tee-shirt emblazoned with it when the pink was first made available to the public. Because Marc and Rick took the gamble, they have received any financial gains accrued from the sale of Dianthus 'Bath's Pink'.
During the four-year span when all of this was taking place, the three of us never communicated about this particular pink. I was too busy sticking it in my landscape jobs and they were just as busy doing the testing and propagation. One day, when the Goodness Grows catalog came in the mail and I was reading through it coming up my driveway, I was quite surprised to see that they had named the plant for me.
Now folks, both you and I know truthfully that if my name had been McGillicuttie…! But Goodness Grows people are very special and I thank them and, of course, my husband for having such a proper name for a plant. Not long after that Bill Funkhouser (ed. note: Funkhouser is founder of GPPA) called to tell me that he was introducing 'Bath's Pink' in the Wayside Gardens catalog. On my bookshelves is every Wayside catalog for over twenty years. Now this wonderful pink is offered in the plant "Bible".
In addition to all of this, 'Bath's Pink' has been mentioned on a national TV morning show, Cathy Henderson talks about it frequently on her Saturday morning radio talk show, Southern Living magazine did an article on it last April (1993), and the plant selections committee of the Georgia Green Industry Association named it one of the four Gold Medal Winners for 1994. When I go to trade shows, more and more of the large and small nurseries are picking it up to sell and, of course, it is for sale at Land Arts, our nursery in Monroe, GA.
So, why is this pink so successful? Quite simply because it gives success to the gardener who uses it. This is true of some of the other plants that I have: an aster that blooms all at once, then neatly crinkles up for winter; a yellow-blooming hypericum shrub whose leaves color vividly for months while the plant never gets woody looking; and a perfect Japanese maple ('Osakazuki') that performs well despite the South's late freezes and hot summers.
Whether I am going to trade shows and asking about grasses - what's invasive and it is perennial or annual - or finding a clerodendron growing as a thirty-year old tree in Asheville, my questions are always the same. How big does it get? Is it invasive? And, what is the care?
'Bath's Pink' comes out just fine in respect to all three of these questions. This plant is a success story that we all share. Special thanks to my neighbors at Goodness Grows, Marc and Rick, and to all of you who are enjoying the success of growing 'Bath's Pink'. Be sure to come and see us at Land Arts.
Editors Note: Jane Bath, GPPA member and garden designer, is the owner of Land Arts Nursery and Garden Center in Monroe, GA. Marc Richardson and Rick Berry, also GPPA members, own Goodness Grows Nursery in Lexington, GA.
Photo credit: Phillip Oliver provided the photograph of Dianthus 'Bath's Pink' which is also featured at his personal website, called A Southern Garden, at http://fly.hiwaay.net/~oliver/index.html