Alpines are plants found in high mountainous areas generally above the natural tree line.They are usually exposed to wide ranging temperatures: very freely draining low nutrient soils: strong winds and high light levels. To survive these conditions they have evolved a number of defences because they are low growing, mat or cushion-forming plants. They are protected against harsh winds and cold: they are dormant under snow; they have extensive root systems to seek out moisture and nutrients: they often have spiny growths to deter grazing animals. These conditions are different to a British winter but provided you bear in mind their natural growing conditions, you can grow them quite successfully.
How to grow Alpines
These dwarf plants offer a huge choice of flower colour and also of shape, foliage and a diversity of usage. Used in a rockery, spectacular displays can be achieved with the colour and form of the plants complimenting the rocks. They also make good container plants on patios and are good in old sinks and troughs and raised beds. Some will grow well in hanging baskets and in crevices in walls, or paving stones. Types such as Thyme can be planted en-masse to give a colourful and scented carpet.
Alpines in containers
Alpines can live in containers for many years and dwarf types especially benefit from being displayed in raised sinks or troughs so that their minute detail can be better appreciated. Smaller containers will need holes in the bottom to let excess water drain off. Always put a layer of broken crocks in the bottom to help with drainage and ensure the roots never sit in water. Provide a planting mix of 30% general purpose compost, 30% leafmould or garden compost and 40% added grit. Top dress with gravel and place in a sunny location. Water regularly but not excessively. Keep alpines even drier in winter, but do not allow to dry out. Feed with a general fertiliser at just a 1/4 of the manufacturers recommended strength for other plants in mid-spring. Keep free from weeds and pick off any dead leaves and prune as needed. Move pots into a cool well ventilated greenhouse in winter.
Creating a rockery
A rockery is intended to give the appearance of a rock outcrop mound in a mountanous region. The site is important and a bank is ideal, as building on a level surface seldom achieves a natural effect. The use of natural or imitation rock stone rather than broken concrete or old bricks is preferable. It is best to use one type of rock, choosing the largest pieces you can comfortably handle, although using some pieces will help give a natural effect.
When positioning your plants consider how they would appear in nature. Try to copy this natural look when building your rockery. Create pockets of suitable planting soil for the plants. To add interest vary the soil between the rocks. Bury the base of rocks and slope them back to help direct the rain into the pockets. Most alpines will tolerate any type of soil, providing it is well drained!.
Once the rockery is planted, cover the soil surface with small gauge gravel or shingle to enhance the look and keep the soil cool. Although many alpines grow on very poor soils, always water after planting and in very dry spells. Feed in spring with a general fertiliser at 1/4 strength for other plants to ensure best results.
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New Zealand burr. A compact mat-forming evergreen alpine. Leaves bronze-tinged with bright red burrs. Height 5cm. Spread 15cm. Flowers from July to September. Evergreen. Hardy.
A succulent with basal rosettes of spreading, lance-shaped, spine-tipped and spine-margined, grey-green leaves. Clusters of yellowish green flowers. Height 2m. Spread 3m. Flowers from June to July. Evergreen. Not hardy. Sheltered Site.
A succulent with basal rosettes of spreading, lance-shaped, spine-tipped and spine-margined, grey-green leaves striped white. Clusters of yellowish green flowers. Height 2m. Spread 3m. Flowers from June to July. Evergreen. Not hardy. Sheltered Site.
Fleshy green lance-shaped leaves each tipped with a soft white spine. Forms a tight rosette to 20cm. Tubular orange-red flowers in autumn on long stem. Tolerates light frost given good drainage. Height 15cm. Spread indefinite.
A grey-green, large leafed alpine with margins of cream and drifts of yellow flower clumps.
The charming little pink, dark-eyed flowers (sometimes lilac with a yellow-green eye) are composed of up to fifteen florets with rounded, slightly overlapping petals. This is an easy plant to propagate from summer cuttings or layers and, indeed, the trailing stems often root spontaneously. Nor is it particular as to soil or site and will accept some shade though, in common with other hirsute plants, it appreciates a position where it will not be subject to too much winter wet.
Prostrate silvery foliage with the occasional white flower. A fantastic creeping beauty. Prefers full sun, or partial shade with very free-draining, sandy soil or compost.
Perennial wildflower with silver-grey small basal leaves and deep pink to white clusters of flowers that resemble a cat
Clusters of tiny, pure white flowers with yellow eye accents are held like clouds above dark green foliage. A round, compact habit and exceptional flowering longevity making this an outstanding spring flowering plant. Prefers full sun with free-draining soil or compost.
An absolutely stunning hardy alpine with frilled, golden foliage and gorgeous pink flowers that appear in spring and the start of summer. Prefers full sun, or partial shade with free-draining soil or compost.
Rock cress. Mat-forming evergreen with loose rosettes of toothed green leaves margined pale yellow with white flowers. Height 15-20cm. Spread 60cm. Flowers March to May. Evergreen. Hardy.
Rock Cress. Mat-forming evergreen with flat rosettes of golden green leaves with white rim. White flowers. Height 15-20cm. Spread 60cm. Flowers from March to May. evergreen. Hardy.
'Fruhlingszauber' is a mat- or cushion-forming, short-lived, evergreen perennial with loose rosettes of oval, toothed, hairy-edged, dark green leaves and erect stems bearing compact racemes of purple-pink flowers in late spring and early summer.
Little Treasure White' (mountain rock cress) is a compact variety of this popular perennial rock plant forming an evergreen mound covered for weeks in spring with fragrant white flowers. Attractive to bees.
Sandwort. Low-growing evergreen. greyish green leaves. cup-shaped white flowers. Height 5cm. Spread 40cm. Flowers from May to June. Evergreen. Hardy.
A ground hugging alpine which produces a cushion of green leaves, bearing masses of vanilla-white slightly trumpeted flowers during the spring. Prefers full sun, or partial shade with free-draining soil or compost.
Pink Sandwort. Cushion-forming evergreen, dark green leaves, attractive star-shaped deep pink flowers. Height 5cm. Spread 40cm. Flowers from May to June. Evergreen. Hardy.
Sea Pink.Thrift. Cushion-forming with linear. hairy. grey-green leaves. bears purplish pink to white flowerheads. Height 5-8cm. Spread 15cm. Flower colour Pink. Flowers from May to June. Evergreen. Foliage colour Green. Grey. Hardy.
Sea Pink. Thrift. Cushion-forming with linear dark green leaves, bright pink flowerheads. Height 20cm. Spread 30cm. Flowers from May to June. Evergreen. Hardy.
Sea Pink. Thrift. Cushion-forming with linear dark green leaves. Bright pink flowerheads. Height 20cm. Spread 30cm. Flowers from May to June. Evergreen. Hardy.
Sea Pink. Thrift. Cushion-forming with linear dark green leaves. bears pink white or red-purple flowerheads. Height 20cm. Spread 30cm. Flower colour White. Pink. Purple. Flowers from May to June. Evergreen. Foliage colour Green. Hardy.
Silver Mound. A great form of this well known Artemisia. Rounded mounds of frilly grey foliage spill and creep if allowed.
Clump forming perennial with green leaves. Height 25cm. Spread 45cm. Flowers from May to July. Herbaceous.
Large, soft, lilac-blue, daisy-like flowers with a summer sunshine, yellow centre. This is a real zinger, a good addition where space is at a premium but impact is essential. Prefers full sun with free-draining soil or compost.
Beautiful double blue flowers on clean, green foliage and with a lovely dome forming habit. Prefers full sun, or partial shade with free-draining soil or compost. Ideal for rockeries, gravel gardens, walls and containers.
A fantastic new form of carpeting hardy plant that forms small mounds or blankets that become smothered with comparatively large flowers of the most unusual Baby Blue Blushed. Flowers through April to May. Ideal for rock gardens and containers, for trailing down walls, as ground cover on sunny banks or at the front of mixed or herbaceous borders.
Mat-forming evergreen alpine with intense blue flowers. Height 10cm. Flowers from April to May. Evergreen. Hardy.
Mat-forming hardy evergreen alpine with green leaves. single rich deep lilac-blue flowers. Height 8cm. Vigorous cascading habit. Flowers from March to April.
Bellflower. Low growing alpine with dainty double light blue flowers from July to August. A very pretty small alpine.
Adriatic Bellflower. Spreading perennial with heart-shaped, toothed, yellow leaves. Attractive star-shaped blue flowers. Height 5cm. Spread 30cm. Flowers from June to August. Semi-evergreen. Hardy.
Dalmatian Bellflower. Mound-forming, evergreen with heart-shaped, mid-green leaves. Panicles of large trumpet-shaped deep blue flowers. Height 15cm. Spread 60cm. Flowers from June to September. Evergreen. Hardy.
Dwarf Snapdragon. An erect perennial with many stems of blue flowers in summer. Height 50cm. Spread 30cm. Flowers from June to August. Hardy
A bushy fleshy stemmed succulent with varigated grey-green leaves often tinted with red and star-shaped white or pink flowers.
Tight, weed suppressing mat of succulent, grey-green to green, evergreen foliage which takes on purple tones in winter. The large blossoms which measure 1.5-2" across form a brilliant blanket of magenta to fuchsia pink all summer long and even into autumn in some climates.
A tufted perennial with mid-green leaves. Single. deeply scented pink flowers tinged with red. Height 60cm. Spread 23cm.
Loads of stunning pink flowers edged in white over a dense cushion of silvery green foliage. Great fragrance for bouquets and boutonnieres. Hardy and weather resistant for a spectacular early season display. Perfect in borders or patio tubs.