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Category: Alpine Garden

Plants and how to develop an Alpine garden

Rock On With My Garden

Rock On With My Garden

Dwarf Conifers in a Rock Garden

For over 25 years I have gardened a rockery or rock garden on a triangular patch of poor soil. I progressively scrounged and collected a range of granite, limestone and sandstone rocks and added them piecemeal. I aspired to growing alpine plants and recognised good drainage and shelter from winter wet weather would be key but that is as far as my planning would go. For the first couple of decades I was busy at work and wasn’t able to put in the effort of looking after small but hardy alpines.

One of the consequences of this lack of time was that I took the easy way out and planted ‘Dwarf and slow growing conifers’ that were a popular fad at the time. I also supported many alpine nurseries with my often ill chosen plant selections in attempts to buy a ready made garden feature. Latterly I joined the Alpine Garden Society and took advantage of shows and seed exchanges.

Then a latter stage crept up on me. The 10-20 year old conifers started to take over in scale and dare I say interest. Firstly dwarf can be a misnomer just because a conifer is small when planted it may very well just be a slow grower that has higher ambitions. I true dwarf conifer is a genetic feature of some species and are worth seeking out at the expense of other mass grown shrublets. Over time I dug out the larger and more boring specimens but still the alpines became less significant. I now have 20+ conifers of varying forms, colours and species taking over the alpines. The highest is 6 feet tall and may be the next for the chop one is low growing but spreads 5 feet wide and a favorite on mine is only 9 inches high. The space is still approximately 200 square feet but is extending into and adjacent bed past the crazy paved path.

Ideas for Rock Garden

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Alpine Show at RHS Harlow Carr

Alpine Show at RHS Harlow Carr

Yesterday I visited the 2018 alpine event at Harlow Carr. I was very impressed and I am sure the other people who braved the elements were well satisfied. One benefit of alpine gardening is that the cold greenhouse can protect the gardener as well as the alpine plants.

Big Pluses

  • The volunteers at the snack bar were doing a great job dishing out tea and coffee and there was a help yourself table of homemade cakes and scones. I had a piece of ‘Granny’s apple cake’ thinking she would be called Granny Smith.
  • The next plus was the range and excellent quality of the plants entered in the various show classes. Unfortunately I forgot my camera and note book but remember some of the advice I picked up talking to AGS members.
  • The attention to detail was noticable and must be a trait of those who show alpines. One room was dedicated to alpines native to other continents and they were well labeled. There was also a note of when a seed had been sown showing the age particularly of various cyclamen.
  • There were several specialist nurseries selling a good range of alpines. I could have spent lots of cash but would have had problems carrying so many plants. I opted to just buy 3 Dwarf Rhododendrons.
  • I then went next door to the RHS library and borrowed 3 books including the now out of print Dwarf Rhododendrons by Peter A Cox.

Book Cover

Hosta Little Tips

Hosta Little Tips

otley show hostas 035

I am no great fan of large leaved hostas probably due to lack of space in my garden where I prefer to grow other plants. However the dwarf varieties are easy to get on with.

An alternative name for Hostas is Funkia. That appeals to me and helps describe how the plants can create congenital abnormalities and abnormal formations. (Teratology).

Small Hosta Tips

  • There are a host of varieties to start to growing and collecting may become an obsession. There are 49 named varieties of ‘mouse-ear’ varieties alone.
  • Water well in spring even before the first leaves show. Roots need water particularly as the light increases.
  • The better the roots the better the plants will display.
  • In spring restart the plants with slug bait, slow release fertiliser and a mulch.
  • A weak solution of Tomorite makes a good foliar feed.
  • Epsom salts will provide needed magnesium when the leaves have hardened in early summer.
  • Water  lightly  in autumn to fatten up the roots for winter.
  • Allow plants to make good clumps. Leave for 3 years or so before dividing. I tend to be too impatient dividing to get more plants.
  • Encourage flowers and collect seed to increase your stock.
  • The more light a hosta gets the more water it needs.

otley show hostas 050

Saxifraga a Collectors Dream

Saxifraga a Collectors Dream

There are enough different saxifraga within the genus to satisfy the most ardent plant collector and breeder.

Saxifraga Karels Carpet

There are over 300 identified species and a great number of hybrids referenced in to sixteen separate sections.

Saxifraga  burseriana  ‘Sulphur’

Then in addition some of the main sections will hybridise and there are numerous variations to collect.
Kabschias and  Englerias are quite similar hybridising like mad. They flower early in pots or tufa crevices. Silver Saxifrages Ligulatae, Dwarf Cushion Porphyrion, London Pride Saxifrages Gymnopera and Mossy Saxifrages are other groups to collect.

National Collections & Societies
  •  The Plant Heritage National Collection of Kabschia Saxifrages is housed at Waterperry. The curator, Adrian Young, says ‘a huge band of followers are attracted by their size and compact habit as well as the beautiful flowers’.
  •  Cambridge University houses the National Collection of European Saxifrage in the Mountains House
  • The Saxifrage Society membership is a very reasonable at a fee of £10 per annum.
  • The Alpine Garden Society
Plunge Bed Success this Spring

Plunge Bed Success this Spring

Alpine house
I have reported before about the Alpine house at RHS Harlow Carr. Now we can begin to see the fruits of all the labours both in growing and display.

There must be 100 different plants on display many of which were in flower this week. I know the pictures are small but how many varieties can you recognise?

Just by observing the plunge beds regularly, I am picking up tips that I hope to be able to use in my own cultivation.

Alpine House Harlow Carr

See Gardeners Tips on Plunge Beds

Beginners instructions for building a plunge bed for growing Tete-a-tete narcissus from the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society.
‘To construct a plunge-bed dig a pit in a well drained piece of ground that will not flood – near a tree or hedge will be fine. A wooden frame, sufficient to hold the pots, on top of the ground will do equally as well. Place the pots in the plunge-bed or frame and cover them with soil/compost/sand to a depth of about 5cm. They can now be forgotten until the spring. A strong cardboard box stored in a dry cold garage or shed will do equally as well. Cover the pots in the same way as above and don’t let them dry out.’

Sedum spathulifolium all year round

Sedum spathulifolium all year round

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Sedum spathulifolium make dense mats of grey foliage. The cheerful yellow flowers can be up to 3″ across.

Originally from west and north America this hardy plant is now found in many rockery and alpine gardens. It can be grown successfully with Sempervivums or other Sedum.

Sedum spathulifolium varieties to Grow

  • Sedum spathulifolium purpureum has wine coloured leaves when young.
  • Sedum spathulifolium ‘Capablanca’ has virtually white leaves and is more delicate needing protection in an apline house.
  • Cape Blanco has tiny, fleshy rosettes of whitish-gray leaves. It spreads slowly to form low dense mats. Good in containers.
  • Although attractive in flower, Sedum spathulifolium are at their best in midwinter with their colourful evergreen foliage and attractive shapes.
  • ‘Carnea’ has rounded, fleshy, silver-green leaves shaded with crimson and bright yellow summer flowers. see images.

Cushion Plant Growing Tips

Cushion Plant Growing Tips

gypsophillia aretiodes

What are Cushion Plants

  • Surprise!  Cushion plants look like cushions although they may be firmer.
  • Cushion plants grow very slowly and  evenly. They grow rosettes of leaves all at once so that no one part of the plant is more exposed than others.
  • The flowers are small and often massed closely nestled in the leaves for protection.
  • The low growing, dense foliage of a cushion plant acts as a layer of insulation, protecting the roots and stems.

Saxifraga

Where to Find Cushion Plants

  • Cushion plants  grow in rapidly draining rocky or sandy soils
  • They grow in exposed and windy conditions such as alpine, arctic and arid areas.
  • A cushion plant  can thrive because it insulates itself  and has time to develop very deep  taproots .
  • Cushion plants in several families can be found all over the world.

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Rockery Plants in a Rock Box

Rockery Plants in a Rock Box

Rock Box

A call this a rock box as it is one way of displaying rockery plants above ground level.

The size of these interesting rock plants allows you to get many species in one small container. This tannalized wooden frame was custom made about 4 feet square and is on display outside the new Alpine house at RHS gardens Harlow Carr. I counted over 30 different species planted in this one container.

Below is a close-up of the Armeria junperfolia from the same display.

Armeria juniperfolia

See also Rock Gardens in Miniature

Growing Triteleia Bulbs

Growing Triteleia Bulbs

Triteleia starlight

Tips for Growing Triteleia

  • Triteleia ixioides Starlight is a straw coloured flowering bulb that is easy to grow.
  • Flowers in umbels of up to 25 have 6 petals that open flat like wheel spokes and they can last for 8 weeks. they make good cut flowers.
  • They like a light, well drained soil and are good pot subjects.
  • Plants are 18-24″ tall and spread about 4″.
  • They can be grown from seed (flowers are pollinated by butterflies) or from cultivated 1-2cm ‘corms’.

Other Names and Species

  • Triteleia ixioides ssp. unifolia has a similar yellow colouring but the centre of each petal has a dark central line.
  • Triteleia ixioides is also known in its native California as Coast Pretty Face or Golden brodiaea. The bulbs are often listed as Brodiaea
  • Triteleia anilina is a mountain form that emerges in spring and blooms later than other Triteleia.
  • Triteleia laxa are purple flowering varieties widely available as corms in the UK.
  • Triteleia hyacinthina have many often white florets.

The Pacific Bulb Society has a large report on numerous species.

Read Growing Habranthus