Alpines are cultivated varieties of wild flowers, originally from the high mountainous regions of the world. Although most of them are small in comparison to, say, herbaceous shrubs, some gardeners reckon they are amongst the most beautiful plants in the world.
They are fairly easy to look after and take up very little room, in fact most are probably grown in containers such as old stone troughs or sinks. Once you have grown a few alpines, you will easily get addicted and will be on the lookout for new varieties.
The choice of plants is enormous, with plants available for most soil conditions. Many need an alkaline soil but a few such as gentians are lime haters and require an acid soil.
Most alpines will not need any fertilisers and unless they actually stop growing will not need any.Many are grown as rockery plants, in scree gardens or as plantings in cavities in stone walls. However you decide to grow your alpines, they do need to be in very well drained soil. Many alpine plants in their natural habitat, grow with a minimum of soil and basically have their roots in near pure gravel. These are the sort of conditions that you need to create for your plants.
Some alpine plants, especially those with a grey, woolly foliage, will need protection from wetness during the winter. In their native habit they are protection by a layer of snow which actually keeps them dry. To protect your plants, make sure that the soil is very well drained and cover then over with a cloche or a sheet of glass stood on wooden pegs to hold the glass above the foliage.
Creating an Alpine Bed
Creating an alpine bed is an ideal project for a small garden.
Most alpines grow natural in difficult areas such as on alpine mountains and alpine meadows. To get the best out of your plants you will need to recreate the same conditions.
Firstly and most importantly you will need to create a free draining soil. This is best achieved by incorporating some horticultural grit into the top 50-mm, aim to achieve a50% soil/50%grit mix. Alpines general benefit from being on a lean soil so at this stage there is no need for any base fertilisers to be added.
As with most gardening projects the preparation is the key in the case of creating an alpine bed time spent on preparing the soil will save a lot of time later when it comes to weeding. You will need to dig the area over and remove the perennial weeds with a tap root, such as dandelion. Once the area has been dug and the grit incorporated you can then cover the area with ground sheeting which will allow the water through and prevent most of the weeds.
With alpine beds and rock gardens it is particular useful because weeding in between the rocks and stones can become a nightmare!
Next the area should be covered in about 50mm of gravel or horticultural grit.
This cover the ground sheeting up and will help to keep the base of the plants stems dry.
Once the sheeting has been covered you are then ready to arrange the rocks and cobbles. There are no set rules on how to do this. The best way is to arrange the rocks generally then stand back to view the whole bed. Remember that you will be spending most of your time looking at your garden from the house so check the view from inside to. Once you are happy with the arrangement of the rocks you can add additional interest by creating hollows and rises under and around the rocks to create planting pockets.