The Difference Between Rock Plants and Alpines
The name ‘rock’ plants can be very deceiving, as some people have the completely wrong impression that you need a pile of large stones in order to grow these fascinating plants. Rock plants are simply any plant which is small in stature, making it suitable for growing in contained landscapes.
Alpines, on the other hand, are best thought of, in most cases, as the mountain relatives of many of the herbaceous perennials which we grow in the border of our gardens.
As such both are perfect for small beds and for growing in all sorts of containers. The great advantage, however, of alpines over most perennials is that most are evergreen and provide something of interest even in winter. Some also have an incredibly long flowering season, which stretches from spring until autumn. But there are also a huge number of them which providetoo in summer and autumn.
Most alpines, however, are at their best in spring, when they break out in a sudden rainbow of color.
Some alpines are true, mat-forming dwarfs, which hug the contours of the ground or creep over low walls. Others are large and surprisingly vigorous, so do check carefully on the anticipated size the plant is expected to reach when it is set out in your garden. Some species of a particular plant can be dainty while others can be relative giants. The problem is that alpines look so appealing in their small pots at the garden centre that it can be extremely difficult, without doing some prior homework, to avoid the invasive monsters, which need constant cutting back. There are alpines which are happiest when planted inand surrounded by grit, and others which thrive in the glacial scree. Some relish shade, while others like to grow on rock surfaces in full sun.
Alpines originate from an environment with extreme climatic changes — from the hot-midday sun of a mountain top to cold alpine nights. However, once planted in a gritty, free-draining loam compost and surrounded by even more of that soil, which keeps the roots cool in summer and protects the plants from the brutal winter wet, most alpines will be happy.
I also recommend them on their price. You can till a container with alpine or rock plants, which will last for years, for little more than the cost of buying some annuals for just one season.
Another advantage of alpine plants is that they need very little feeding apart from the occasional use of a general liquid fertiliser in spring, especially one of those which have a wide range of trace elements in addition to the usual nitrogen, phosphorus and potash. It is also their ability to go without regular watering which make the alpines such ideal candidates for modern gardens.
I would never be without my alpine or rock plants as they are among the prettiest plants to grow in the garden.