She is small and unassuming, blooming in crevices in paths and paving or as a frilly froth at the front of old-fashioned flower borders. Sweet Alice is an old-fashioned girl indeed.
Sweet Alice is more commonly called alyssum these days. She is also no longer used to cure – or attempt to cure – victims of the bites of rabid dogs (do not try this.).
There are modern cultivars, like Carpet of Snow, that are taller and slightly more flower covered than the old unnamed ones you'll find blooming year after year in old gardens.
But whichever you grow, they will be hardy, perennial and sweetly scented, though you may need to bend down to notice their honey fragrance unless you grow a lot of it. It is worth growing a lot.
Alyssum may seem unassuming, but it can be extraordinarily useful. For some reason its flowers attract more hoverflies, those lovely pest eaters, than even the much-touted phacelia.
If you grow a carpet of alyssum on shaley or clay soils you may find that two or three years later, Sweet Alice has conditioned the soil for you, so that fussier plants will grow.
I love it grown in between paving. Weedy paving looks ugly. Paving scattered with clumps of alyssum is a delight and its severity is softened by the mounds of flowers in white, purple, lavender, pink and even a pale buttery yellow.
Alyssum is also excellent as a weed suppressant. As far as I know it doesn't produce any substance that inhibits the germination of weed seeds as gone-to-seed brassicas do, although it is a member of the same large family.
Its main purpose is as a small, easy-care, floriferous and short-lived perennial filler.
Weeds love bare ground. Cover bare soil between flowers or veg with alyssum and weeds can't get a roothold. Alyssum is also shallow-rooted, needs little food or water, mostly because it produces so little growth, so it won't compete with the plants around it.
Alyssum is a perennial, but I've found that in drought or extreme cold the coloured varieties seem to vanish while the white ones persist.
Alyssum is ridiculously easy to grow. Buy seeds, not seedlings – each plant is so small you'd need a huge number of seedlings to make a show.
Scatter the seeds on bare soil, each about a third of a finger length apart, in full sun or lightly dappled shade; water lightly so the seeds don't clump together, then watch them grow.
Keep watering till well established, feed with slow-release plant food to get them growing and then forget them. Or rather, enjoy them, as they solve your garden problems for you, in the sweetest, most fragrant and unassuming way imaginable.
N.B. A covering of plastic clingwrap does not improve the taste of a melon (or sweet corn, or anything, really).
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