If you are looking to add colourful and seasonal displays to your garden and patio then alpines are a plant group which comes into its own at this time of year. Their miniature growth habit gives them a unique charm as they come into flower during spring.
Alpines are cultivated varieties of wild flowers that typically originate from high mountainous areas above the natural tree line or from hot and dry coastal or desert landscapes. Despite appearing to be rather delicate alpines are extremely hardy as long as they are protected from getting wet in the winter.
Alpines are perfect for growing in nooks and crevices in paving or walls, in their own rockery area or in containers. Trying to make a rockery look impressive and work as part of your garden’s design can be incredibly difficult because you have to create an area that looks natural. This is easier when you are able to follow a natural slope or bank in your garden; having a sloped area that appears out of nowhere may look rather peculiar.
Planting into containers is a much simpler process that will display your plants in all their glory but on a much smaller scale. The most traditional container for alpines is a large stone trough or Belfast sink. The range of alpine plants available is huge and will often include other slow-growing or miniature forms of perennials and shrubs that do not necessarily come from the same mountainous regions but are ideal companions for growing with true alpines as they prefer the same growing conditions.
One of the most important requirements when planting alpines is to provide excellent drainage. Begin by raising your container off the ground and adding a layer of broken pots of large pebbles to keep any drainage holes clear. Raising the container will also bring your plants closer to eye level, allowing for easy viewing. The growth medium used in your container will differ depending on what you choose to grow but for growing some of the classic alpines such as sedums you will need to use a 50:50 combination of loam based compost (i.e. John Innes No. 2) and horticultural grit. Plant your alpines just proud of the soil surface to allow you to mulch the top with another layer of grit or gravel. This not only makes your plants look more eye catching but it will suppress weeds and help your container retain some moisture while keeping your plants as dry as possible to prevent rotting. Alpines hate to sit in water but you should also never allow them to dry out completely so watering should be regular but not excessive. Position your container somewhere with lots of bright light and sit back and enjoy their jewel like beauty!
Popular alpines for crevices and paving
- Aubretia – colourful purple and red flowers
- Thyme – pick hardy low growing varieties
- Pratia – violet flowers, can cope with shade
- Lewisia – bright colourful flowers
- Saxifraga – succulent leaves with pink and white flowers