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Field Guide: Alyssum

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Field Guide: Alyssum

April 21, 2014

Alyssum, Lobularia maritima: “Flower Carpet”

Don’t be fooled by sweet alyssum’s dainty appearance. While this petite flower–often found in cottage gardens–looks delicate and charming, it was once thought powerful enough to treat bites from rabid animals. And in the world of magic and witchcraft, it is used to calm anger and to inspire peace and emotional balance.

Which is easy enough to believe.  A whiff of its soft, honey-like scent can be instantly soothing, and you can’t help but feel cheered up by the tiny, ground-hugging mounds that will bloom for months at a time with practically no effort on your end.

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Above: Purple and white alyssum mingles with herbs and strawberries in Michelle’s kitchen garden. Photograph by Meredith Swinehart.

Whether in the ground or in pots, sweet alyssum is as at home when planted between herbs and around vegetable beds as it is when grown alongside other bloomers like catmint, lavender, salvia, and roses. Beneficial insects (the good bugs that eat the bad bugs) love it, and a lesser known fact is that it’s edible too. A relative of mustard, it has flowers and leaves with a spicy, pungent taste that are a delicious addition to salads.

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Above: White alyssum blooms among purple basil, chives, and lavender. Photograph by Meredith Swinehart.

Cheat Sheet:

  • A ground cover that’s particularly charming between dry-laid pavers.
  • Its fragrance will attract beneficial insects.
  • A good companion to lavender, herbs, low growing salvias, catmint, bulbs, and vegetables.

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Above: Alyssum (in the pot on the right) is a happy fire escape plant—so long as it gets enough sunlight. Photograph by Erin Boyle.

Keep It Alive:

  • Thrives in full or part sun.
  • Needs regular water.
  • An annual, it’s happy to re-seed itself; leave spent blooms in place.

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Above: A packet of Dwarf White Alyssum seeds will germinate in from seven to 14 days; $2.99 from Grow Organic.

And it’s one of the easiest plants to grow–all it wants from you is a spot in sun or part sun, and regular water (though some are quite drought tolerant once they’ve settled in). After frost has passed in spring, you can start from seed or seedlings; plant it in full or part sun, spacing plants 6 to 8 inches apart. Water regularly.

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Above: White alyssum looks like tiny pinpricks of light next to black mondo grass. Photograph by Meredith Wilson.

Some varieties can reach a foot wide and as tall, though most remain shorter. In most regions, sweet alyssum blooms mainly in spring and fall, though it will continue flowering through summer in cooler areas and during winter in warm climates. After flowers fade, shear them off to bring on another flush of blooms.

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Above: Purple alyssum dangles over the side of our DIY Outdoor Planter: Pretty Enough to Eat.

Have another plant query? Visit our ever-expanding Gardenista Field Guide.

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