Celebrate the New Year with the flower heralded as the official birth month flower for January, the Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus). Sadly, because of their familiarity, carnations get a bad rap. How many times have I heard a bride state with an air of contempt, “I don’t like carnations!” REALLY?!! WHY?

Carnations have been a flower staple for more than 2,000 years. The Greeks and Romans used them to decorate their homes. Today, carnations are the third top-selling flower in the United States behind roses and chrysanthemums.

It’s no wonder. Carnations come in every (natural) color of the rainbow except blue. (The scientists and breeders are working on that!) They are long lasting and often have a pleasant “clove” smell. In fact, they were called “clove pinks” because their original color was a pinkish purple. Additionally, white carnations have long been used to symbolize good luck. With a new year, who doesn’t need a little “good luck?” Oh, did I mention they are inexpensive. So don’t be a “hater.” Turn over a new leaf for 2012 and show the Carnation some love.

When selecting carnations, choose those with clear strong color and firm petals that show no browning or rolling of the edges. Stems and leaves should be firm and a lovely grey green color and free of discoloration and lesions. Re-cut the stem with a sharp knife, removing any leaves below the water level. Place in a cool area in a clean vase or bucket with at least 3- 4-inches of water to which an accurately measured amount of flower food has been added (follow package directions) until ready to use.

When designing with carnations, rather than using them individually, I like to bundle three or four together with decorative wire or thin ribbon to create a larger mass of blooms. Besides adding strength to the stems, the bundle creates a more dramatic statement. Place the bundles into a container similar to what you would place a large allium or amaryllis.  Floral foam may be used for control, however carnations last longer and can be more easily re-cut if arranged loosely in a vase of floral food solution. Arrange several bundles in the vase adding your foliage of choice or simply the flowers for a more contemporary look.

Another easy look is six or seven white blooms bundled together and used as a mound at the lip of a short stocky container. This can be quite attractive when repeated three or four times in the center of a dining table. Very Chic!

To further lengthen their vase life, re-cut the stems and change the water ever four to five days. Keep them cool and out of direct sun and drafts.  Also be aware, carnations are sensitive to ethylene gas, which is produced by maturing fruit and vegetables. Carnations properly maintained can last three or more weeks. What a bargain!

Additionally, Carnations are also an edible flower. The petals have been used since the 1600s to make a French liqueur known as Chartreuse.  Petals can be steeped in wine, used “candied” or as decorations on cakes and desserts. The miniature dianthus petals taste like nutmeg and clove making them a tasty addition to salads adding spice and color.  If used for consumption flowers should be organically grown or from a local grower who has grown them specifically for that purpose.

Ring in 2012 with a new found appreciation for a very traditional but awesomely versatile carnation.  Not only will you enjoy their long lasting simple beauty, but also your budget will appreciate the relief. Visit your local florist to see the wide selection of carnations available.

What do you think of the carnation?