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Over the last three years we have seen a growing interest in alpine plants and how to grow them at home. In this blog post, RHS Garden Wisley‘s Alpine Team Leader Peter Goodchild gives us vital tips for growing these fantastic plants, and which alpines to try out in your garden!
“I believe there are a few factors behind the increasing interest in alpines, and the main one is that people have less out door space than ever before. Particularly, with more people living in flats with small balconies, having a small potted plant as a conversational piece to add colour to an area, and one that can be moved easily, sounds like the perfect plant for any aspiring gardener.
There are three things to remember when growing alpines:
When repotting your alpine be sure to add at least 40% fine grit to your compost (Preferably John Innis No2). Because you’re adding the drainage within the compost, you do not need to use crocks or broken pots. Instead, use a square of mesh or fine chicken mesh to stop the compost washing away, but also to stop pest like vine weevil from finding a nice dark place to lay their eggs.
Check your watering. Many alpines will go through a stage of dormancy when they will want little to no water around the roots or bulb. This will depend on where the plant is native to and the growing period.
If you think about where alpines grow, most would be on rocky outcrops with the wind blowing across them drying out any moisture that could create rot. If you try to grow the same plant in a still air environment which is warm and damp then you can guess what will happen to the lovely cushion plant you have been tending to over the last year. This is why alpines are perfectly suited for balcony life where they are elevated with the wind blowing over them, and with a roof above to regulate how much water is landing on the foliage.
5 alpine plants to grow
Sempervivum ( House Leeks ) Monocarpic beauties that are the perfect step from tender house plants to hardy outdoor alpines, they are near impossible to kill which is why they make the perfect the beginner alpine. Try growing Sempervivum arachnoideum; these wonders are covered in white hairs that resemble cobwebs.
Pulsatilla vulgaris Members of the buttercup family which are found in high altitude grasslands and native to the UK – they hold their own in the top five for their seasonal interest. The contrasting green foliage and large purple flowers are a real hit in the spring and with the seed heads extending the season of interest through to the summer they surely deserve a position on your balcony. Grow in an open compost mix with 30% grit.
Primula auricula These Victorian favourites are a little trickier but well worth the effort. They need an open compost mix and winter protection from rain to help stop them being overwatered while dormant. Increase the watering as they come into growth in early spring. They will require lots of ventilation thought the year and a cool, shaded place in the summer. One of my favourites is P. auricula ‘Blue Yodeller’ for its pale blue centre to deep purple – this is a lovely plant to show.
Saxifraga These beautiful cushions are making a comeback, and whether it’s the mossy or encrusted variety, there is something to make you smile. I would suggest growing one of each if you haven’t grown them before to see which variety you prefer. For me I just love them all, with their cushion form and the long arching flower stems. They just amaze me, especially when they are planted on their sides in a dry stone wall or in a crevice garden. For a beginner, I would try Saxifraga ‘Peter Pan’ or Saxifraga ‘Earl Grey’.
Lewisia cotyledon Native to North America, these sub alpine gems are a must for any grower who wants to add to their alpine collection. Grow them with plenty of drainage and in full sun, flowering from spring to early summer with their long arching flower stems, normally in pink red or purple. Try growing the straight Lewisia cotyledon species or even some of the other species like Lewisia tweedyi or L. pygmeae.
For any further information there are hundreds of keen grows at the Alpine Garden Society groups across the UK, who are more than happy to help any level of grower. You can look up your local group at https://www.alpinegardensociety.net/