Monday, April 11, 2011

Sea Thrift Grows By The Summer Sea

 SEA THRIFT grows by the summer sea,
Till the summer’s close,
On a grassy cliff, ’neath a radiant sky,
While sun and summer and wind go by,
Sea thrift blows and blows.
-Dollie Radford (1858-1920)

With apologies to Mrs. Radford, the Sea Thrift about which I am writing is not the cottage standing in a garden at some distance from the sea, but the flower growing on the cliff that is full of joy all the summer through.

Thrift is a common name often applied to plants in three separate genera: Phlox subulata, Dianthus spp. and Armeria. I suppose it's mostly because they so closely resemble. All have low profiles, mounding habits, and linear or needle-like foliage. The name, Armeria, is the latinized version of Dianthus, so that could also contribute to the confusion. But the one I'm writing about is Armeria.

Armeria (pronounced "ar-MEH-ree-ah") is a perennial, native mostly to the Mediterranean region of Europe and Great Britain, often found along the coast. As any know who have lived by the sea, it can be a harsh environment. Strong winds, sand, heat and cold, dry conditions and salt spray buffet the shore. Coastal plants are well-suited to the situation, hunkering down behind dunes, sheltering in crags, bending with the wind, and tolerating the salt. Just so does Armeria thrive.

Though Armeria boasts over 100 species, just a few are commercially available. Among them are A. alliacea (resembling Allium), A. juniperifolia (resembling juniper foliage), A. maritima (of the sea) and A. pseudarmeria (the plant looks more like Dianthus than Armeria, so is called False Armeria though it isn't). A. maritima is the most popular.

Armeria is perfect for rock gardens, coastal gardens, low borders along patios and walks, and cutting gardens. For water-wise gardeners, Armeria is great for xeriscaping. Armeria maritima has the added advantage of being very tolerant of high copper levels in the soil.

Armeria prefers full sun in USDA climate zones 3 or 4 to 8. Plant in very well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.6 to 7.8. Space 6 inches to 8 inches apart. Do not water too much or Armeria will rot. To prolong the bloom season, dead-head the spent flowers to prevent them from going to seed. Once seeds are produced, Armeria thinks its job is done and will settle down to rest.

Those of you who garden near the sea should find Armeria very much to your liking. Even if you don't live near the shore, it will delight you with its joyful little flowers blown by the breeze.

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