April-Lay a carpet of flowers
Alyssum has recently been reclassified as Lobularia maritima. Lobularia is derived from the Latin word lobulus meaning ‘small pod’, referring to the fruit, and maritima meaning ‘of the seashore’. Since Alyssum is native to southern European countries found along the Mediterranean, this makes perfect sense. In its native habitat, Alyssum occurs on sand dunes and in areas. It has now been naturalised, worldwide, and does equally well in our flowerbeds.
Alyssum is herbaceous, growing to a height of approximately 20cm. The horizontal spread is usually considerably wider than it is tall. The foliage consists of leaves that are linear and lance shaped. The colour varies from grey to green and the edges are smooth. The flowers form in dense clusters from the stem. They are about 5mm in diameter and comprise of four rounded petals – imagine the flowers you first drew as a child. Available colours include white, pink, purple, citrus, violet, lavender and deep rose.
The uses for Alyssum are varied. Generally used as a filler in containers, it has a slightly aggressive trailing habit and spills beautifully over the edges of pots and hanging baskets. Due to this trailing and mounding habit it creates a wonderful, thick carpet of colour in your flower beds if planted en masse. Alyssum is shallow rooted, low and spreading and because of this habit, you can use it as a “living mulch”. It helps to reduce the rate of evaporation of moisture in the soil and assists in controlling the ever present, lurking weeds.
Alyssum likes to be planted in full sun and would appreciate a little bit of afternoon shade. Avoid full shade. Like all plants, optimal conditions are always encouraged to ensure the best display, however Alyssum is not particularly fussy and in fact does not like to be smothered with care. If your plants are in nutrient rich soil, it is not necessary to feed, however if planted in poor soil or in a container feed monthly with a water soluble fertiliser. This annual is somewhat drought tolerant therefore water sparingly.
Alyssum is grown as an annual because it starts to get leggy, sparse and messy if left for longer than a season. They are prolific self seeders and have a very fast rate of growth. It is essential that you keep this plant in check because it can begin to dominate if allowed. No serious diseases or insects affect Alyssum, although damping off can become a problem if the soil is too moist and the temperatures very high.
At the height of summer you may notice that your Alyssum are starting to die back. Do not worry, simply cut the plant back to half its size and when the weather begins to cool it will reflower and continue to do so until the first frost.
Alyssum is a stalwart in every and any garden. If you need a very good reason to plant it, how about this one: Bees, butterflies, birds and other “good” insects are very partial to Alyssum. This is as a result of the strong honey fragrance of the flowers as well as the nectar it produces.
Did You Know:
Alyssum is derived from the Latin alysson which in turn comes from the Greek alusson which means “without rabies”? Alyssum was widely used as a medicinal cure for madness in centuries past.