Could the meaning of a name, in the language of flowers, be any more incredible than that of sweet alyssum, meaning “worth beyond beauty” or “sweetness of soul”? One would be hard pressed to match a description so daintily apt.
It’s quite a contrast then, to know that the name alyssum actually comes from the Greek word “lyssa” meaning “rage” or “madness” and the “a” meaning “against” giving it its meaning today, “without madness”. History tells us that it was used to treat rabid animal bites which makes sense of its more common name, healbite. In modern day it is obviously no longer thought to help calm angry souls or be effective in treating rabies so is not readily used in any medicinal capacity.
Sweet alyssum is a member of the mustard family which is evident when sampling its edible flowers and leaves, which taste somewhat like a broccoli leaf. In Spain the leaves and flowers are added to salads for some added spice and a vitamin C boost. While some people eat sweet alyssum, others sometimes get a rash just from handling it, so be aware if you have a sensitive skin.
After deciding whether you’d like to fill that empty but sunny spot in your garden with something white, pink, purple or yellow, then pop down to your local accredited garden centre and pick out your favourite sweet alyssum seedlings and rush home to get them in the ground. Alyssum enjoy some afternoon shade but definitely not full shade, so spare a thought when positioning them.
If your soil is in pretty good condition before planting then you need do little in the way of feeding since alyssum are not particularly fussy and would really prefer not to be smothered with care. If your plants have soft leaves and seem less floriferous than they should, it’s probably because your soil has too much nitrogen in it. With poor soil or containers though, it is advisable to feed them once a month with a water soluble fertiliser, because they’re worth it.
Speaking of water, only moderate watering is required since alyssum can tolerate dry soil conditions, albeit not ideal. Ensure the soil is well-draining and that your seedlings are planted 15cm apart giving their roots room to spread. They are spreaders, after all.
Alyssum are known for prolific seeding so don’t plant too close to beds you’d rather not see it taking residence in. Having said that, they make wonderful ground covers, acting quite like a living mulch, for tall growing plants and since their roots are not invasive, they can be exceptionally beneficial if employed correctly. Keep them in check where necessary by trimming back if needed.
Imagine your patio or balcony with a couple of hanging baskets spilling over with the most exquisite sweet alyssum blooms thrilling both your sight and smell senses every time you walk outside. Attracting birds, bees, butterflies and other “good” insects, it’s an investment every household should be running out to make, every year.