I’ve always been fond of alpine plants. I was getting a few of them ready for putting on my stall last week when I was reminded of a time when I was given my first alpines. I thought they looked like little trees and bushes so I set about making a miniature landscape out of them. I started with an old biscuit tin into which I put a couple of inches of soil. Next I found some nice spongy moss that looked like a perfect tiny lawn. A mirror became a pond and small stones became a rockery. The alpines became magical woodland. To finish off the perfect scene a ceramic house was carefully placed and various plastic farmyard animals grazed happily from behind a matchstick fence. The finished work was a beautiful idyllic picture of rural life. This was to be short-lived because out of no-where came a Lego spacecraft. Action man was on a mission to destroy Utopia armed with two balloon water bombs. Both hit their target with an earth shattering splash. The tin was full of water, the miniature world had gone, however as I was a seven-year-old boy and my tea was ready I didn’t much care!
These miniature forms of plants-perennial, conifers, shrubs and bulbs offer a wonderful choice of flower, shape and leaves. Alpines are usually grown in a rockery but they can also look good in containers, raised beds, hanging baskets, and crevices in dry stonewalls as well as in between paving stones. Varieties such as Thyme can be planted en masse to give a colourful and scented carpet. They enjoy the full sun.
Choosing your plants
When choosing plants, most will be expected to be low growing. The ultimate spread will also vary and many can grow to cover several square metres. Choose the plants carefully or these can swamp the less invasive types.
On heavy or wet soils add liberal amounts of sharp sand or grit. This will improve drainage and prevent the plants rotting during periods of heavy rain.
Weeds are the alpine’s number one enemy and once they become established they are very hard to get rid of. Clear the ground completely of weeds such as ground elder, couch grass, bindweed, docks, dandelions etc.
Watering and Feeding
If it is very dry while the plants are establishing water around the edge of the plant. Alpines like a feed with a general fertilizer in mid spring and this should supply all they require for the year.
Applying a layer of rock chips, grit sand or fine gravel over the soil looks more natural and aids the retention of moisture.
Pruning is important for strong healthy plants. Flowering alpines respond well to a ‘short top and sides’ after flowering.
Enjoy your alpines and watch out for any deranged action men!