Though “frugality” is a synonym for “thrift,” Southern gardeners know of one “thrifty” plant that doesn’t skimp on colorful blooms. The “thrift” seen in gardens throughout the South is Phlox subulata, a type of creeping phlox that is not frugal at all in providing an abundance of color and flowers.
A low-growing perennial, thrift becomes a carpet of pink, lavender, white, rose or purple blossoms when in full bloom in spring. Another common name for thrift, “moss pink,” describes its color and growing habit. If planted in a sunny and sheltered spot, it may even send up flowers throughout the milder parts of winter.
Thrift is sometimes massed as a groundcover to stabilize banks that are difficult to mow, but it is just as suitable as a single plant in a sophisticated rock garden or combined in a bed with other perennials. My favorite way of using thrift is to plant it at the top of a wall and let it spill over as it grows. Because it is mat-forming and durable, thrift is often planted on gravesites, thriving as long as a careless groundskeeper doesn’t scalp the ground with the mower.
Thrift grows best in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. It does not have any particular demands as far as fertilizer, water or maintenance are concerned, but benefits from being divided every few years if it becomes too thick. It is fairly drought tolerant once established. Candytuft, crocus, thyme, creeping oregano, prostrate rosemary, yucca, creeping raspberry and winter jasmine are good companion plants for thrift.
Another plant, Armeria martima, also goes by the common name “thrift” or “sea thrift.” I have not had luck with it in our humid climate, but will try it again. (I usually have to kill something several times before I am convinced I cannot grow it.) If you are unsure about which plant you are seeing, check its botanical name.
-- Arty Schronce
Arty Schronce lives and gardens in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta. He encourages everyone to discover the pleasures of plants and gardening.