Growbag Blog

Top nursery’s tips on how to grow alpines

As we lean into the horticultural excitement of Chelsea Flower Show, one of its leading exhibitors, Kevock Garden Plants, has partnered with The3Growbags, to share their insights into the specific joy of alpine plants.

This Scottish nursery has won Chelsea gold eight times in the last 10 years and took the show’s President’s medal last year. This is going to be good…

Moni, design consultant for Kevock

What is the lure of alpine plants you may ask? / We are often asked why we are so drawn to Alpines.

Is it because they remind us of childhood memories rooting around the sea rocks where the thrift blooms? Is it because they are so resilient – clinging on to a windswept cliff face bearing extreme conditions of wind, rain and drought? Is it the beauty of the miniature, the visual contrast of the vegetative matter against the power and beauty of the stone or the diversity of material that thrive in these conditions? It is all of these and more. 

Once your interest is piqued, the world of alpines is ever expanding.

Saxifraga ‘Ailsa Ruth’. Saxifrages offer evergreen foliage and cascading flowers that give a waterfall effect en masse

So where should we begin if we wish to grow alpines?

Firstly, it helps to think about where they hail from and then to try and create the conditions they like. 

Alpine plants are found in the mountainous slopes above the tree line at around 1500m where the terrain is more exposed to the elements and the flora has adapted to cope with such hardships. They do this by becoming more dwarf, more ground hugging, or by developing a creeping habit or cushion shape to allow the wind to flow over, leaves become smaller to cope with respiration and so on. These are open environments where the rocks cast shade rather than the trees found further down the mountain. Here too, the soil is thinner and less fertile.

So if we wish to grow them we try to recreate the conditions they would find in their natural habitat. 

A good free draining medium is best. We use a coarse grit mixed with good compost at a ratio of 50/50 of each. A sunny sloping open aspect is ideal. You can arrange your rocks in a way that you find pleasing, making sure that the rocks are set at angles so the soil doesn’t get washed off and in such a way that you have pockets to frame the plants and rock faces to act as a foil for the plants. This stage can be great fun as you are creating your own mountain-scape.

We recommend selecting a gravel that is in harmony with your rock, which you can use as a topping around the plants. This will serve to mulch the plants to retain moisture and act as a weed suppressant. A topping of a minimum of 5cm is best, so when you come to plant you need to bear this in mind and plant higher to allow for this. Bear in mind that the top of the slope will be drier than the bottom and use that to your advantage.

What alpines to grow

Think about the dormant seasons when you choose your selection of plants so that you have a mix of evergreen such as Saxifraga, Hebes, Sempervivums and Dianthus which will give winter presence while your alpine bulbs and plants prepare to surface in the spring.

Then select plants that give you pleasure – be it the miniature Iris reticulata for their exotic markings, Globularia’s for the flower that looks like a Liquorice Allsort, a creeping Gypsophila for its delicate beauty or Gentian for its Autumn beauty and cobalt blue tubular flowers. Think about when they flower and how they might look together.

Globularia – does it put you in mind of a liquorice allsort?

How to look after your alpines

Cut back dead flower heads and defoliate old leaves to keep the ventilation around your plants and to prevent the gravel becoming a seed bed. Some light pruning from time to time after flowering to keep your plants in the scale you would like them. 

Pulsatilla vulgaris – spring flowering and with velvety foliage, beautiful flowers and a fascinating seed head.

What alpines to buy now

Here are some suggestions of plants we love and will be showcasing at Chelsea which you might like to buy. 

  • Saxifraga – this is an excellent genus with evergreen foliage and cascading flowers that give a waterfall effect en masse, 
  • Pulsatilla, spring flowering and with velvety foliage, beautiful flowers and a seed head of interest,
  • Campanula prized for the romance of their flowers and bright foliage,
  • Leontopodium for their soft silver foliage and atmospheric ghostly flowers.

Do come and say hello if you are ever at one of our shows. We’d love to meet you. 

Leontopodium has soft, silver foliage and atmospheric ghostly flowers.

Contributed by the team at Kevock Garden Plants, Lasswade, Scotland.

You can order online from Kevock Garden Plants here

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

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