Alpines are some of the most charming plants you can grow, and they’re currently enjoying renewed popularity.
Many alpines are hardy, so can cope with cold winters. However they don’t like standing in cold, wet soil, so the main thing to consider when growing them is drainage. They can cope with some rain, and do need some watering, but they must be planted in well-drained soil or compost. If you’re growing them in a container, ensure that the container has adequate holes for drainage. Most alpines like a neutral or slightly alkaline soil.
Find out all you need to know about growing alpines in our alpines Grow Guide.
Plant alpines in containers such as a trough, or an old Belfast sink, for best effect. It ensures that you can give them the conditions they need, and appreciate their delicate foliage and flowers at close range. If you can, move the container to an area that’s in a ‘rain shadow’ (for example, beneath house eaves) in winter. You can even make your own alpine container.
A mix of 70 per cent John Innes No.3 and 30 per cent horticultural grit is ideal. If you’re planting in a Belfast sink, tilt it slightly so that any excess water drains out of the hole. Top the display with gravel and a few stones to show off the plants.
Read on for our pick of 10 pretty varieties to grow, on display in the Great Pavilion at a recent RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Hardy sea pink, or thrift, has a compact cushion of evergreen foliage and pretty pink flowers in late spring and summer. Deadhead to keep it flowering.
Sea pink flowers
Pretty alpine pink ‘Popstar’ has a compact mound of foliage and deeply toothed pink flowers in summer. Its subtle scent is stronger on sunny days. Cut the stems down to around 5cm high in early autumn, otherwise the growth will become woody. Height: 20cm.
Deeply-toothed pink flowers of alpine ‘Popstar’
Lewisia longipetala ‘Little Plum’
This stunning alpine has star-shaped pink and apricot flowers from late spring to early summer. It likes a slightly damper soil than other alpines. If you can, plant it at an angle of 45 degrees, so that water can drain out of its rosette of evergreen foliage. Height: 10cm.
Pink and apricot flowers of alpine ‘Little Plum’
Lithodora diffusa ‘Heavenly Blue’
This mat-forming evergreen has bright blue flowers in spring and summer. Unlike most alpines, it prefers an acidic soil, so if you’re growing it among other alpines in a trough, plant it in a pot filled with ericaceous compost, then sink it into the soil. Height: 20cm.
Blue flowers of evergreen alpine ‘Heavenly Blue’
Phlox subulata ‘McDaniel’s Cushion’
Phlox subulata ‘McDaniel’s Cushion’ has a mound of evergreen foliage and large magenta flowers in late spring and early summer. It likes an open, sunny site. Height: 10cm.
Pink flowers of phlox ‘McDaniel’s Cushion’
Saxifraga ‘Winifred Bevington’
Slow-growing evergreen saxifrage ‘Winifred Bevington’ has star-shaped pink flowers, held above dark red stems from late spring. It’s easy to propagate – carefully pull up a rosette of foliage, and add to a small pot of well-drained compost. Height: 12cm.
Pale-pink flowers and red stems of saxifrage ‘Winifred Bevington’
Sedum spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’
This evergreen forms a neat mound of fleshy purple-tinged foliage, topped by a mass of starry, gold flowers in midsummer. Height: 8cm.
Starry golden flowers of sedum ‘Purpureum’
There are many varieties of sempervivum, or houseleek, with attractive rosettes of fleshy leaves. They are easy to propagate – carefully pull off a small rosette and plant deeply, as the roots are not formed from the bottom of the stem, but from the rosette. Height: 5cm.
A container of sempervivums
Thymus ‘Silver Posie’
This dainty thyme is unusual in that it grows upright – many thymes spread. It retains its tiny variegated green and silver leaves all year. Height: 10cm.
Tiny and variegated leaved thyme ‘Silver Posie’
This spreading speedwell forms a mat of semi-evergreen foliage and has blue flowers with a white eye from spring onwards.
White-eyed blue speedwell flowers
Thanks to K. Partington Nurseries, who provided us with information on the plants in this feature.