Alpine Garden Plants – Planning and Buying

Alpine Garden Plants

The weather and soil conditions on mountains are often so extreme that the plants which grow there suffer certain distortions and need to evolve new growing methods in order to survive.

alpine garden plants

On the higher plateaux, plants are dwarfed by wind and cold, and reduced to flattened or hummocked specimens. They may be found growing in between clefts of rock, or on rough ground of broken stone or small patches of soil.

It is essential that the roots can grow down to a good depth, to provide support against the extremes of heat or cold, rain and wind. Coming down the mountainside to lower levels we find several kinds of taller and bushier plants, many of them herbaceous.  In order to survive the harsh winters, growth of the roots and buds stops until the warmer weather encourages them to start growing again. Interspersed here and there will be dwarf shrubs and trees, not artificially created like theJapanese ’bonsai’ plants but species dwarfed by the elements.

Many dwarf plants at all levels survive both the cold of the winter and the dry heat of summer by growing food storage organs, mainly bulbs, often deep underground. They supply the above-ground parts, the flowers and leaves, with food until the rains or melted snows moisten the ground after long periods of drought.

Swampy ground occurs at various altitudes but more usually at lower levels. Bog plants grow here.  Meadows, too, are found at various  heights, many receiving rain throughout the year; some with a dry period. Herbaceous perennials and bulbs will grow in these conditions.

British Climate for Alpines

The climate in Britain is rarely anything like the natural climates of these plants, yet we can simulate them to some extent, and the more we do, the more successful will be the results. The task is to try to combine as many of these characteristics as possible within your garden and to find what grows best.  The amount of light available to true alpines is often difficult to reproduce, as there are no houses, large trees and fences on mountains! However, rock shading and baking does occur. Also short plants growing in meadows are shaded and therefore are cooler at the base but receive light and warmth from the sun on the flowers and upper growths.  So, if all these conditions are present in your garden anything is possible.  However, if, like the majority of people, you have only some of these, your selection of alpine plants will be limited.

From the point of view of overall construction of a rock garden, the shape and appearance of the individual plants are more important than their flowers. The plants will still be seen out of season, so those selected must give form in sufficient numbers to be of interest throughout the year. The flowers, when they do come, will be a bonus.

The main categories to choose from are the short herbaceous alpine plants and alpine bulbs, the cushion and trailing plants, and dwarf trees, shrubs and conifers. The mainstay of alpine plants are the mat, hummock and rosette forming species, all of which require good drainage. They can be used in  rock gardens, screes, raised beds and pavements, as long as there is a good depth of well-drained soil. They will generally require a reasonably light situation, free from the cover of trees and shrubs and the resulting falling leaves.  The hummock type is often excellent for sink gardens, provided the sinks are deep enough. The leaves of most species are small, which means that overcrowding by taller and leafier specimens must be avoided, otherwise the growth above ground will rot, due to the lack of light and the fact that moisture is trapped in during cold spells.

Planning Your Alpine Garden and Buying Alpine Garden Plants

The advantage of alpine garden plants and rockery garden plants is the ease of buying. With few exceptions, they are grown in containers and may be planted at any time of the year, as and when they are seen when visiting a nursery.  Although it is a mistake to do too much impulse buying, undoubtedly some is inevitable, and plans will then have to be changed accordingly.  Try to see plants at different times of the year, not just in the spring when the greatest number will be in flower. There is a myth that alpines and rock gardens are only worth seeing in the spring, but it is in fact, possible to achieve colour and interest throughout the year.

Plants ordered by post and received during very wet weather, should be placed under glass or a clear polythene cover stretched over a wooden frame until conditions are drier. If they arrive during frosty weather, again place under a cover and use leaves, straw or newspaper as a temporary plunging material. Never place the plants in a dark corner – dry and frost-proof though it may be, the lack of light will cause a rapid deterioration in the condition of the plants.  They are better off outside under a cover which will let light through. Some plants may be obtained from garden centres and general nurseries and the majority will be easily available from nurseries specializing in alpines and rock garden plants. A few will be harder to obtain.

Alpine Seeds

Alpine garden plants can also, of course, be grown from seed.  Alpine seeds are available from any good nursery and sometimes even your main chain of supermarkets these days.

24. July 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Alpines | Tags: , | Comments Off on Alpine Garden Plants – Planning and Buying


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