In 1597, John Gerard produced a Herball of London-discovered plants. He went on frequent rambles, adding all the ‘new’ flowers and herbs he could find – adding no less than seventy-three species to his Middlesex list alone.
Whortleberry, Bilberrie and the eye-popping Wild Service Tree are all Gerard discoveries, as is the now long-gone Deptford Pink.
Dianthus Armeia, he says, grew “abundantly in our pastures neare about London, especially in the great field next to Detford by the path side as you go from Redriffe (Rotherhithe) to Greenwich.”
It was still blooming merrily in ‘Totnam Court’ and ‘a little beyond the bottom of the hill beyond Highgate’ a century later, but it’s not been seen north or south of the river for a good couple of hundred years.
That’s not to say the plant is extinct. It still exists in pockets in the West Country and Southern Scotland, and, according to Plant Life, somewhere in Kent – looks a bit like the Isle of Sheppey, but they’re not ‘fessing up. It’s considered ‘endangered,’ but when I looked it up on Wikipedia (which knows everything) it said it’s widely grown as an ornamental plant.
Great, I thought. We can all grow it in our gardens and bring it back to the area in some small way. But, try as I might, I’ve found nowhere that sells it, not even specialist dianthus nurseries. Still – at least you can ‘adopt’it (see above.) Or go to see it in Hawaii.
Oddly, it’s possible that Gerard got it wrong anyway. According to Arkive it was actually a Thomas Johnson that named the flower, and it’s possible that the plant he actually found in Deptford was a completely different pink – Dianthus deltoides (below), and the one known as Deptford Pink is an imposter. If that’s true, it’s much easier to get hold of – you can buy seeds from Thompson for £1.69…