Armeria; Versatile Water-Wise Beauty

Armeria, also known as Sea Pink or Sea Thrift, is a lovely plant for adding texture to small scale plant combinations.  It has neat-looking foliage, can take occasional foot-traffic and is deer resistant as well. Sea Thrifts have flowers that form a globe-shaped inflorescence at the top of a leaf-less stem, looking a bit like pink lollipops. The foliage is generally a neat, grass-like mound of fine or medium texture, and depending on the variety, the flower heights can vary from four to fifteen inches. There are several species and varieties currently available through the nursery trade.

 

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Armeria, also known as Sea Thrift or Sea Pink, looks tidy in a water-wise garden. Photo; Joy Albright-Souza

 

My personal favorite, and the one I consider the best suited for drought tolerant gardening is the California native Armeria maritima ssp. californica. Our native Thrift occurs naturally on ocean bluffs, coastal strand and exposed coastal grassland in central and northern California. I love making a spring field trip to one of my favorite seaside walks, on the central coast, to see the small, pink flowers shining away among the drying grass.

 

California coastal Armeria

Armeria maritima ssp. Californica, in it’s native habitat. Photo; Joy Albright-Souza

 

 

Armeria maritima ssp. Californica

California Sea Thrift blooms among the drying annual grasses of the central coast. Photo; Joy Albright-Souza

 

In a garden setting, it can be considered short-lived, but as usual, the clues to its needs are found in its native habitat. This means that it prefers cool-ish summers, so it needs some shade when grown inland. It is adapted to dry summers that have cool nights or fog.  It can grow on sand or clay and adapts well to salty or alkaline conditions.

 

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Armeria can also be found in white, in addition to various shades of pink. Photo; Joy Albright-Souza

 

The key to growing it in garden conditions is either excellent drainage or, if grown in clay-ish soil, then minimal summer water. I find that the species is tougher and more persistant than the  horticultural varieties. It is used to nutrient poor soils, so it doesn’t need to be babied with fertilizers. If it’s happy, it will spread neatly for a number of years, if it stays too wet, it will bloom nicely but rot out from the center after a year or two. It is useful in containers and generally does  well in a lean potting soil.

 

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Armeria can be stunning when used en masse in a contemporary setting. Photo; Joy Albright-Souza

 

One year I grew a tight mass of Armeria in a planted insert, within my gravel petanque court as well as in mixed planting around the garden edge. They were watered by drip irrigation and they bloomed beautifully, but as was their reputation, they were fairly short-lived and didn’t really thrive beyond the second year. However, several years later, a single plant popped up nearby, in an un-irrigated seam in the paver patio. It had apparently self-seeded and established itself, along with some opportunistic thyme, in a dry and unexpected spot where it has thrived for several years now.

 

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A self-seeded Armeria makes its home in a gap in the patio hardscape. Photo; Joy Albright-Souza

 

It handles the occasional foot traffic and apparently gets all the moisture it needs from the summer evening fog that condenses on the gravel fill and gaps in the surrounding hardscape. It’s made itself quite happy in a not-completely ideal place (not ideal for me that is), but it gives me such pleasure to see what plants do when given minimal intervention. In gardening as in art, sometimes the “happy accident” should be enjoyed for the purity of the moment and nature’s own serendipitous beauty.

 

 

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Categories: Native Plants, Things to Grow

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One Comment on “Armeria; Versatile Water-Wise Beauty”

  1. Susan
    April 8, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

    I also love these unexpected treats that pop up here and there regardless of all of our fussing. Great post Joy, a good reminder that there is so much to enjoy even in the drier years.

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