Alpine Lawns, Lawncare and Alpine Gardening
Alpine Gardens and Alpine Gardening:
The Alpine Lawn
Another simple and very satisfying way of growing alpine garden plants is to create an alpine lawn. Its seasonal bright colours and constantly changing tints of green set off other parts of the garden in a unique way.
An alpine lawn is any stretch of grass in which alpines are grown. It does not have to be particularly flat, any angle will suffice. The quality of grass is also unimportant. In fact, it is an advantage if the grasses are not too fine, because the lawn will not be mown at all for a period of about eight months. Because most of the plants in a lawn will be bulbs, mowing the grass has to be limited to the period when the bulbs are not actively growing, which in most cases is from June or July until October. So there will only be four or five months work on the lawn each year.
The first mowing of the year will be hard and will probably require a machine. If you are not already equipped to deal with lawns, it is easiest to hire a suitable model – probably one of the large rotary mowers – once a year. Meadow grass will have reached a height of about 50cm (20 inches) when fully grown, so set the machine to its highest cutting position. The work will be easy enough if the mower has power drive on the wheels. You will have to remove the first mowings before going over the lawn on a lower cut; rake them up and compost them like ordinary mowings.
The second and subsequent cuts will be routine and an ordinary mowing machine will be adequate. Small areas can be cut with a bill hook, if you have one, before mowing with a conventional machine but you will need to cut round any shrubs or trees in the grass with a pair of shears. Alternatively, if the lawn is very small, you can use shears to cut the whole site.
The grass will look rather yellow for two or three weeks but after that, will green up well and all subsequent mowings will produce a good sward. It must be pointed out that spiking and other machinery treatments should not be used where bulbs are planted because of the damage they could cause.
Lawncare: Weeding Your Alpine Lawn
If by August your lawn is plagued with broad-leaved weeds and the growth of grasses is sufficiently strong to take the place of the weeds killed, apply a hormonal weedkiller. However, do not use weedkiller on dry ground or you will kill the grasses and bulbs as well. The brands containing 2-4-D are best and if you follow the manufacturers instructions, exactly no harm will be done to the lawn or its contents.
I mention these details now simply because this is the hardest part of the work: the rest is so straightforward that it is surprising so few people have used this method of growing bulbs and other storage organ plants, which die down in the summer months. Crocuses andhave been grown in lawns for a long time in large gardens but rarely in smaller ones. As there is now a good variety of dwarf bulbs on the market, even gardens less than 10 metres (30ft) long can be transformed in this way.
An established lawn is perfectly suitable for conversion unless there are underlying stones or rubble to prevent planting. The quality of the lawn is bound to suffer because you cannot cut the grass as often as a top quality lawn requires, but l think this is a small price to pay for the variety of colour you will see for 4-5 months of each year.
It is important to arrange the bulbs correctly: plant the larger ones furthest away and the smallest towards the front of the lawn, so that they are clearly visible. Keep the varieties of bulbs in proportion and do not mix them too much but by all means overlap them to create a natural appearance.
Bulbs can be graded according to the amount of moisture they require and also divided into sun and shade lovers. If there are trees on the lawn they will provide all the shade needed and this is one of the few situations where dwarf plants will not be adversely affected by the presence of trees and shrubs. Fallen leaves can be raked up to make mowing easier and they do not affect the bulbs.
It is best not to choose certain varieties because they are only suitable for larger gardens where they will grow wild if the grass is never cut. This group includes the larger Narcissi and Allium, Eremurus, Cumassia, Fritillaria imperialis and Zephyranthes, some of which are tall and flower and are in leaf well into the summer.
Planting Alpine Bulbs
If you are planting more than 10 alpine bulbs, the easiest way is to scatter them gently over the ground and plant them where they land. If you have fewer than 10 bulbs, place them in groups approximately three times as far apart as the width of each bulb.
Most alpine bulbs should be buried to a depth about double their length. Take out a plug of turf andas shown in figure 26 (a). When planting small bulbs and corms use a trowel; push it into the grass vertically and rock it backwards and forwards. Drop a soil mix made of three parts grit to two parts leafmould or peat into the trench formed and push the bulb into the mixture. If you are planting larger bulbs, use a spade. Cut a line vertically as with a trowel but place more than one bulb in the trenches thus formed. Make the cuts at varying angles to disguise the straight lines.
Cyclamen require a different treatment. Cyclamen cilicium, C. coum and C. hederifolium, should be just covered by soil and Cyclamen repandum needs to be 7.5cm (3 inches) deep.
It is easier to plant larger grassed areas by lifting the turf in 30cm (1 ft) squares and planting the bulbs in shallow holes, then replacing the grass, see figure 26 (b) and (c). The final depth for each bulb is again about twice its height. Tread the grass down where you have made cuts and it will knit together by spring, leaving no trace. Whichever method is used, you must be careful not to leave spaces underneath the bulbs otherwise they will be left suspended in mid-air.
Planting under most trees is excellent for woodland alpine bulbs but some trees such as birch and elm, and shrubs such as privet and lilac which are surface-rooting and hungry feeders, are not suitable. In addition they all produce a mass of roots which makes it difficult to plant the bulbs in the first place. Also avoid conifers. Strangely enough, rhododendrons and magnolias, which are also surface-rooters, appear to have little or no effect on the growth of bulbs, provided that the plantings can be made between the roots and not through them.
If after some years, shrubs become too large for the rock garden they can often be transplanted to the lawn, adding stature and height to an otherwise level surface.