I don’t know why alpine and rockery plants are sometimes seen as difficult – they’re much underused in our gardens, and are really rather hardy and easy to grow, while remaining some of the prettiest and more unusual plants available. I love them and have several alpine troughs dotted about my garden. It’s never enough though and I’ll definitely be planting a few more this spring!
Rockery plants can seem so unusual and delicate, but many have originated in harsh mountainous regions of the world or tropical areas, open to all elements, so are often misunderstood. Basically, as long as you give them the right conditions, they’ll thrive and spread, with superb foliage and exquisite blooms every year.
Drainage is key – if you only give your alpine plants one thing they need, it has to be plenty of holes in their containers as well as gravel or broken crocks at the bottom of the pot to let water out easily. Pot feet placed underneath will work well too. In rockery or crevice gardens, put plants in high places so the drainage potential is better. They also need a few hours of sun a day, and good quality compost – a mix of John Innes no.2, with its medium amount of nutrients, and handfuls of horticultural grit, will work wonders.
The best bit is choosing the plants! Using mostly evergreens will make for an interesting rainbow of year-round foliage colour, and be sure to choose plants that flower through most months of the year. My particular favourites are creeping evergreen sedums, with many colours of fleshy foliage that turn bronze in autumn and with yellow flowers that hoverflies love late in the year. Saxifrage are just as varied – try Saxifraga fortunei ‘Black Ruby’ which will provide stunning fuchsia-pink blooms in late autumn. Yellow alpine poppies are simply charming, and self-seed well, while bone-hardy evergreen lewisia flowers in spring and summer with exotic-looking blooms – try the variety ‘Sunset Strain’, with striking oranges and pinks. Early spring drooping purple pasqueflowers will also set your garden alight – they don’t like root disturbance or being moved though, so let them be.
If you’ve any wall or pavement cracks, why not make the most of them by tucking in some beautiful alpine plants instead of grouting them over? Much prettier.
MUST-BUY PLANT… Clematis
Fast-growing evergreen climber with a profusion of sweetly-scented white star flowers. Plant near a door to catch the smell.
Extremely hardy deciduous climber with exquisite nodding blue flowers. Scramble through a hedge or tree for best effect.
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