In Defense of Carnations: One Editor's Love for the Afterthought Blooms

A recovering carnation hater comes to the bloom’s defense.

I'd like to make a public apology to carnations.

Somewhere between learning to address my elders as "ma'am" and "sir" and writing my first thank-you note, I picked up the idea that carnations were afterthought flowers, best reserved for funeral wreaths, mass-distributed Valentines, and middle school science fair projects. And I've held fast to this notion—that carnations were the ultimate floral no-no—until recently, when I made an arrangement through subscription service Petalled. Right there, nestled between the floral It-crowd of ranunculus and calla lilies and eucalyptus, were white carnations. And what do you know? They actually looked pretty.

Pink Carnations
Narintorn Pornsuknimitkul / EyeEm

My carnation curiosity piqued, I made a trip to the local wholesale florist earlier this week and picked up a variety of blooms, including two dozen blush pink carnations. I tucked 13 of them into a couple of larger arrangements (they're a perfect filler flower) and then placed the remaining 11, cut at various lengths, in a julep cup with a few stems of baby blue eucalyptus. It was this little bedside arrangement of carnations, with their layers of ruffled petals, delicate fragrance, and pitch-perfect pink hue, that totally sold me on the carnation as a focal flower in its own right. No, they aren't peonies, but the carnations' overall vibe—sweet, feminine, and sophisticated—feels strikingly similar. So why have I snubbed them for so long?

I posted a snap of the little arrangement on my Instagram story along with a query: "Carnation thoughts?"

While I wasn't surprised by a friend who responded and said she can't think of them without also remembering cringeworthy seventh-grade professions of love, I was surprised when my high-school friend, who's now an incredibly talented florist, responded to rave about carnations.

"I love them and try to sneak them into everything," Caroline Spelman, who owns Juniper & Jasmine in Charleston, South Carolina, told me. "People have mistaken them for peonies before. There are some really cool varieties out there that no one even realizes are carnations."

With her professional opinion to back me up, I'm officially convinced that carnations could be a fan favorite, as beloved as tulips, if they just had better PR. Everyone hated on "pleather," but then they started calling it "vegan leather" and now everyone's on board. There's no limit to what good PR can get you.

Part of the distaste for carnations, I think, comes from the impression that they are "cheap" and therefore not as special. And yes, they are inexpensive, as flowers go. (At my local wholesale florist, I scooped up two dozen for $19.95—the lowest price per stem I bought, by a long shot.) But in the immortal words of Kacey Musgraves: "Just 'cause it don't cost a lot don't mean it's cheap." Nobody ever hated a Costco hot dog for being $1.50.

Of course, some people may simply not like the way carnations look, and that's okay too. We don't have to agree on everything. But if you, like me, have always hated carnations solely because they're the flower everyone loves to hate, it's time to give them a second chance. They might just surprise you.

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