If I could only buy one type of annual, I’d choose sweet alyssum. It’s tough, it stands up to heat and drought, it’s pretty, it smells good, and it covers ground at a surprising rate. Each spring when I plant the tiny plugs, I worry that they’re going to disappear in the first heavy rain. And each summer, at some point, I realize they’ve grown into flowering mats a couple feet wide, spilling their honeylike fragrance across the whole yard. You can find them in neon pink and bright white, and several shades in between. They’re available everywhere, and they’re inexpensive. There’s no other flower that says summer so reliably and so sweetly.
Common name: Alyssum, sweet alyssum
Botanical name: Lobularia maritima
Plant type: Typically grown as annual
Zones: Annual in most zones
Height: 2 to 12 inches tall, depending on cultivar
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Average, well-drained
• Moisture: Average to dry
• Mulch: Mulch will help preserve moisture in the soil.
• Pruning: Cut back after the first bloom and again at the peak of summer.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed; often self-seeds.
Pests and diseases
• Vulnerable to downy mildew and white blister.
• May attract slugs or flea beetles.
• L. maritima looks great at the front of a flower bed. You can also weave it in between perennials to connect or highlight different colors.
• Alyssum works well in a window box or hanging basket.
• Use as an annual ground cover in a sunny spot.
• ‘Carpet of Snow’ is a classic white-flowered cultivar that grows about 4 inches tall.
• ‘Snow Crystals’ forms compact mounds of white blossoms to about 10 inches tall.
• Cultivars in the Basket Series come in a range of colors from red to white to peach; these look great in hanging baskets.
All in the family
• The genus Lobularia contains only a handful of species, all from the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands. L. maritima, as its name suggests, does particularly well in coastal, or maritime, conditions.
• Other members of the Brassicaceae family include cabbage, kale, and radishes.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Lobularia maritima courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)