Newest Review: ... the foliage can attract caterpillars, but the caterpillars in my garden this year haven't gone anywhere near my Alyssum; instead they... more
A sweeter smelling alternative to marigolds
Member Name: Stewwydablue
Advantages: Very cheap and easy to grow / look after
Disadvantages: Smells good enough to eat, but don't!
Alyssum is a lovely plant, I grow "Sweet Alyssum" which gives a cloud of fairly low growing (around the 30cm mark) tiny white flowers that smell of the sweetest honey imaginable, especially at night as this is when the scent is at it's strongest. They are commonly seen growing in rockeries and as an edging plant for paths, but I have been a bit unconventional this year and have mixed them in with Mimulus in a huge round planter, the centre piece of which is a giant sunflower. It's a bit of a random combination, but I think that the soft creamy white of the alyssum contrasts against the deep reds, yellows and oranges of the Mimulus in a way that draws the eye and encourages you to bend down and smell them, all the while forming a mixed "ring" of flowers from which a huge sunflower sprouts out of the middle. Doesn't sound like a RHS Chelsea gold medal winner, but we think it looks good.
Mine were grown from seed, using a packet of seeds on offer at Lidl earlier in the year (2 packets of different seeds for 50p). Out of the ten or so plugs that I seeded, I've only planted six of the resulting seedlings but can say that they have been very successful this year and I will be growing them again next year in order to provide Mrs Dablue her colour fix in the garden - I'm a veg man so most of my preferred planting is predominantly green (although secretly I do enjoy mixing in flowers amongst the veg I grow!). Real men sow, man.
To grow from seed is very easy. I prepared some finely crumbled moist compost in plant plugs, then placed a pinch of seeds onto a sheet of white paper. The seeds are tiny so doing this helped me to see them. I then carefully knocked off two seeds into each plug, and just left them on the surface of the compost. Kept moist, they took about two weeks to sprout, and about a month after that to have a set of true leaves, from when they were ready to re-pot.
They aren't a fussy plant to grow, other than not liking frost. Bear this in mind when planting out - I waited till the end of May before I took them out from under cover. Once planted out, they haven't needed more than the odd sprinkle of water if it hasn't rained for about five days (so you can guess that this hasn't happened very much!). Also, to keep them flowering for longer, I have been taking off the flowering stems that are about to go to seed which has encouraged lots of new growth. I'm hoping that they will keep flowering until the first frosts come so long as I keep dead-heading them in this way.
PESTS AND DISEASES COMMON TO ALYSSUM
Apparently the foliage can attract caterpillars, but the caterpillars in my garden this year haven't gone anywhere near my Alyssum; instead they have had a whale of a time on my pea plants and Raab. I have noticed greenflies from time to time on them though, but a quick spray with soapy water sorts this out. Other than that, there aren't any significant pests or diseases that I've been able to find in the course of my research for this review which affect Alyssum.
The white flowered "Sweet Alyssum" seems to be quite popular, but there also varieties available that have yellow flowers ("Golden Queen" and the perennial "Mountain Gold") and pink flowers ("Easter Bonnet"). Mainly though, there seems to be quite a few different types of white Alyssum, although to be honest I can't tell the difference between them - they all look quite similar to me.
Most of the well known seed suppliers sell Alyssum seeds - Mr Fothergills (£1.25 for 1250 "Snow Cloth" seeds), Thompson and Morgan (£1.99 for 1250 "Carpet of Snow" seeds) etc. You'll notice that each packet contains over a thousand seeds - if you possess the dexterity to separate the seeds and plant individually then this will cover a huge area of ground. For those who are more sausage-fingered, a scatter-sown approach will result in a lot of thinning out to be done so you won't eventually cover as large an area, unless the thinnings re-take successfully elsewhere.
All in all though, £1.25 for twelve hundred of anything these days is a bargain - penny sweets haven't cost a penny for a couple of decades now.
You can find Alyssum plug plants in garden centres, but to be honest I haven't seen many as most garden centres try to please the masses and mainly sell marigolds and petunias as plug plants for borders and hanging baskets. BORING. So, the moral of the story is grow some from seed, you'll have much more choice over what type of Alyssum you get.
If you want a low growing, delicately pretty edging plant with a very sweet smell, I'd recommend trying Alyssum as an alternative to Lavender which has its uses but can become leggy and woody if not pruned often enough. As they are so easy to grow, look after and also that you get so many seeds in a packet, I can't give them anything other than the full five stars.
Summary: Sweet smelling low growing edging plant