Alpine Garden Plants Guide

Since I was about 14 years old, I’ve dabbled in the hobby of cultivating alpines here and there throughout the course of the last 25 years. It seems appropriate for me to launch the index with a photograph of a Daphne arbuscula, which has been with me from the very beginning. It all started with a cutting that I took in 1974.

Surprisingly enough, I have never had a rock garden; instead, I have always cultivated specialized plants in the greenhouse, frames, or a trough.

The remnants of my second collection will now serve as the foundation of my third collection, which I have built up over the course of many years but have since dispersed its contents.

Alpines – Section 1 (A-C) – Alstroemeria hookerii, Calceolaria uniflora, Campanula carpatha

I’m going to start this part off with a “classic” alpine house plant, the Asperula suberosa, which has been well-liked for a significant amount of time. On closer inspection, it reveals that it has the characteristic leaves of woodruff, but the leaves of this species are coated with hairs, giving them the appearance of being grayish green. It is possible for it to produce a bloom virtually at any time of the year, but the primary flowering season is in the spring, when it may cover itself with long tubed, candy pink stars with four pointed tips. It does well when underpotted with lime in the compost and maintained at a relative dryness level. You may even try it outdoors in a trough, although if you live somewhere damp, you might want some protection from the elements.

On the other hand, here are some of my plants of different varieties of Alstroemeria hookerii that were produced from seeds acquired in Argentina or Chile. These are not cultivated very often since they are quite difficult to cultivate and may have an unsightly appearance when they come into blossom. They need high light levels in order to stay short, which might be difficult to provide for them. Although quite a few of the species are said to be extremely hardy, the one that I put outdoors was quickly consumed by slugs.

This photo was shot at the alpine house at Wisley, and the plant on the left is an Alkanna aucheriana from Turkey. Although it has a reputation for being difficult to care for, I personally have no experience with this plant.

This bindweed was once known as Convolvulus mauritanicus, but I can’t for the life of me recall what its current name is. It is not dependably hardy in some regions of the UK since it originates in North Africa. My garden once had a plant, but alas, it did not survive for very long. As a precaution, the next time I acquire one, I will bring a few cuttings inside to overwinter in the greenhouse.

This is a Calceolaria that I grew from a seed that was labeled C. uniflora, but the image doesn’t do it justice (was darwinii). It has been explained to me that a significant number of the plants that are now being grown under this designation are really hybrids with C. fothergillii. Whatever it was, it flourished for a few years, growing and producing flowers, before becoming extinct. Some of the other so-called “bag flowers” are relatively simple to cultivate, but very few of them are as stunning. Calceolaria tenella is a delightful little plant that deserves a chance in locations with a moderate amount of moisture.

This is the Campanula carpatha plant, which despite having a reputation for having a short life, I have managed to keep alive and well for many years (not to be confused with C.carpatica which is a vigorous plant for the open rock garden). It blooms continuously throughout the year, but particularly abundantly during the colder months. Although there are just a few blossoms visible in this shot, in other years it may be rather stunning.

Alpines – Section 2 (D-O) – Leucogenes, Lithodora oleifolium, Oxalis lobata

Two photographs of my Daphne arbuscula plant, which was produced from a clipping that was taken around the year 1974. After a few years, I transferred it into a trough that has since survived three or four relocations to other homes. The trough used to be filled with a variety of plants, but over the course of time, either they were removed or relocated to another location. To ensure the survival of the Daphne, I was forced to remove a 20-year-old dwarf conifer called Abies balsamea “hudsonia.” The trough is placed in a location that receives partial shade and receives regular watering during the summer. Incredible aroma may be experienced when the bloom is open.

Four exceptional specimens of plant life. A Leucogenes, either L.acklandii or L.leontopodium, can be seen above and to the left. These are examples of the New Zealand edelweiss, which, in addition to their well-known white blooms, feature the most beautiful silvery leaves you’ve ever seen. When I lived in the English midlands, I was able to cultivate Leontopodium leontopodium and Leontopodium grandiceps, but even in that climate, it was difficult to maintain them through the hot, dry summers. A Linum Gemmell’s Hybrid dwarf flax may be seen in the top right corner. Below, on the left, you can see an Origanum amanum plant, which has magnificent long tubed blooms and is perhaps the most popular of all the dwarf Origanums. Unfortunately, it has a propensity to pass away without any prior notice! Last but not least, in the lower right corner, Lithodra oieifolium. My plant is getting to be around 6 feet across, which I believe is not bad going for something that is typically cultivated in the Alpine House. This accomplishment has given me a lot of reason to feel pretty proud of myself. Although I have read of a few individuals who have had success with its growth, I have never before come across a plant that was so large. Although it has a propensity to sucker and roam, my plant is contained inside a large brick cage that was once home to a herb garden. It was probably freed from a trough approximately 10 years ago, and ever since that time, it has continued to expand and mature into a much larger form.

Another tried-and-true fan favorite, the Chilean oxalis lobata, was abandoned. It reappears in the fall with bright green leaves and golden blossoms, then it vanishes during the late winter months, reappears in the spring with just leaves, and then it vanishes once again during the summer months. It used to be the torment of nurserymen, who would receive letters and calls of concern about the plant suddenly dying until it became more popularly recognized that it had two dormant phases in the year. Since then, nurserymen have been able to put this problem behind them. It is also simple to misplace the corms, which are around the size of a small pea and coated with brown fibers, giving the appearance that they are little coconuts. This is another one of its tricks. Since it is so difficult to locate in the compost, whenever I repot anything I make sure to put all of the old compost from the previous pot into the new one.
Left, Omphalodes luciliae. One of the most recently developed kinds, this one goes by a moniker that sounds something like “cilicca.” This is a fantastic plant with leaves that are gray and gorgeous sky blue blooms that have a crystalline appearance and a golden eye. The flowers are on excellent plants. It blooms continuously throughout the year, but unfortunately it is difficult to maintain. In August, this plant could be seen growing in a raised bed in Wisley, but by November, there was no trace of it to be found.

Some photographs of my Cretan dittany, also known as origanum dictamnus, are shown on the left and below. Even though I believe it would be possible to brew some kind of tea with it, I doubt that I will give it a go. Despite the fact that O.amanum seems to be more popular, this particular Origanum is my personal favorite. When I went to see Ralph Hayward, who is a master grower and propagator, he gave me some cuttings of this plant to start out with. Even though Ralph passed away at such a little age, his legacy continues on in a variety of plants. O. dictamnus is a subshrub or tiny shrub that has extremely scented leaves that are spherical, densely felted, and densely felted. In the late summer, it has tiny pink blooms that emerge from bracts that resemble hops. It is relatively simple to cultivate, although it is not totally resistant to cold, and it prefers that the air around its leaves not be too dry. Aside than that, it is fairly simple; in order to maintain its order, I give mine a little haircut after it flowers. A plant that just begs to be handled!

Alpines – Section 3 (P-Z) – Alpine Primulas, Rhodohypoxis, Sempervivum

  • Alpine Primulas

In the greenhouse, there is a trillium rivale. This charming miniature is just around six inches in height at its full size. I use a wooded soil mix that includes lots of leafmould and bark chips to cultivate it, and I make sure it never gets dry. The majority of plants contain some pink or purple spotting, which, in some severe instances, causes the bloom to have an overall pink appearance.

The New Zealand-native Raoulia hookerii may be seen down below. The Raoulias are a group of cushion-forming plants commonly known as “Vegetable Sheep” (this term is also attributed to the Haastia), and they are among the alpines that are the most difficult to cultivate. In the wild, they may measure several feet across; however, I was only able to get one of mine to a diameter of around 0.5 inches before it perished. To our good fortune, R. hookerii is quite cooperative.

One of the dwarf elms may be seen to the left of the picture above; I believe its new name is Ulmus x hollandica “Jacqueline Hillier.” After a few years, it has grown to be around one foot tall. There is a kind of Ulmus that grows much smaller than that; I believe it to be a variant of U. davidiana, and its leaves are just half an inch long.

  • Rhodohypoxis

This is a tiny collection from South Africa that is known as “bulbs.” The most well-known variety is R. baurii, which originally existed in the wild in a few different forms and has now been bred to produce a wide range of cultivars. They typically only grow a few inches tall but have a lengthy blooming period and are quite popular. Due to the fact that they do not entirely winter hardy, I put mine outside in their pots in a trough in the spring, and then I bring them inside to totally dry out in the greenhouse. After that, I put a winter show together using my Cyclamen coum by planting it in the trough. They thrive in compost that is acidic and peaty, and they need a significant amount of water throughout the spring and summer months.

Because plants are transported in and out of the greenhouse over the course of many years, the labels eventually become unreadable. Even if they are not, you will quickly discover that some label pens are not nearly as indelible as the manufacturer claims they are. Above on the right is most likely “Albrighton” or “Great Scott,” and on the left is “Perle,” which I assume was called after the owner of a dog. The ones that are farther down, I am not as certain about. One of them seems to be a “Pictus,” with its pink tips on its white blossoms; nevertheless, I do not recall having it in the collection.

  • Sempervivum

Sempervivums, sometimes known as “Semps” or houseleeks, exist in a kind of transitional zone between the worlds of alpine and succulent plants. There are around 25 different species, all of which can survive in frigid climates, but an extremely high number of hybrids. The majority of the hybrids as well as some of the species are simple to cultivate when given a sunny location, somewhat poor soil, and enough drainage. I cultivate mine in containers, but for the most part, they are kept outdoors. During the colder months, I provide some protection from the elements for some of the hairier varieties. They have a different kind of appeal compared to the other alpines that I produce, but I enjoy having them around anyway. Over the course of a few years, I have built up a fairly tiny collection. Most of them, to my regret, was not named when they were sent to me; however, the one on the left is Engel’s Seedling No. 1, and it is one of my favorites because it has these large rosettes that are gorgeous pinkish gray.

In the top image, you can see two different varieties that have a fringy coating of fine hairs down the edge of the leaf. The color of the rosettes will change with the season, and the rosettes will take on some really intriguing tones when exposed to direct sunlight.

Below, you can see two different sorts of green, with the one on the left being emphasized further by reddish-brown leaf tips.

One of the “blue” Semps, seen above left; this particular species has a propensity for developing very slowly. That’s the right kind of hairy person.

One more fan favorite is seen here in the shape of S. calcareum.

Alpine House

The Alpine House is really nothing more than a regular greenhouse with a little more ventilation than usual. Alpine homes are a little bit more specialized, and as a result, command a higher price. This is the fourth one in which I have successfully cultivated plants. Aside from a few more vents, I have some heating to keep the frost out of the greenhouse, and I have two fans (fan heaters set to summer mode, which means no heat) going all the time to keep the air circulating over the plants all the time. This helps keep the temperature consistent. This keeps them (hopefully) free from mold throughout the fall and winter months and helps cool them down during the summer months. The majority of the plants are contained inside aluminum trays with depths of nine inches each and filled with sand. This again maintains a more consistent temperature for the roots and, since the pots are made of clay, provides some additional moisture when it is required. After that, I dug the flooring so that there would be sand beds below the benching. These sand beds are ideal for plants that need to rest, seed pans, pleiones, and cyclamen with thin leaves.

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