notes from the potting shed
18th April 2024

7 ALPINES You Can Grow IN THE BORDER

In nature, Alpine plants grow at high altitudes above the tree line, often in harsh conditions. Many are fussy plants requiring specialist cultivation, so are best grown in dedicated gravel beds, troughs or alpine houses.

However, some, are tough enough to thrive in the typical garden border.

Here’s the one’s I’ve tried…

✓Auriculas
✓Aubretia
✓Snow-in-summer
✓Alpine onions
✓Alpine speedwells
✓Dwarf campanulas
✓Sea thrift

7 ALPINES You Can Grow IN THE BORDER

Alpine plants grow at high altitudes above the tree line, often in harsh conditions. Many are fussy plants requiring specialist cultivation, so are best grown in dedicated gravel beds, troughs or alpine houses. However, some, are tough enough to thrive in the typical garden border. Here’s the one’s I’ve tried…

✓Auriculas ✓Aubretia
✓Snow-in-summer
✓Alpine onions ✓Alpine speedwells
✓Dwarf campanulas ✓Sea thrift

Primula auricula — May 2021

Auriculas

Auriculas are famous for their bicolour flowers that often appear dusted. They come in an endless variety of powdery colours making them highly collectable. Coming from cool mountains, they like the brightness of full sun, but not the heat. It is usually recommended to plant them in a bright, east-facing border, with free-draining soil. However, I have had most success with a clump which has thrived for over a decade in poor clay soil in a hot, south-facing border. Meanwhile, others, in a more shady, free-draining spot, have failed to thrive.

Primula auricula
H: 20cm, S: 30cm
Flwr: Apr-May

Happy clump of auriculas growing in full sun! — April 2022

Aubretia

Aubretia is a familiar alpine perennial often planted on banks or walls, where it can tumble down romantically, showing off its profuse late spring flowers. It also works well as a front of border plant, or as ground cover between summer bulbs such as alliums, where it will happily form carpets or low mounds. I have planted it at the front of a raised bed with silver and white foliage plants. It needs full sun and a well drained soil. Cut back hard after flowering and you might get a second flush.

Aubretia ‘Purple cascade’
H: 10cm, S: 40cm
Flwr: May-Jun

Aubretia with pink thrift and white snow-in-summer — May 2023

Aubretia ‘Purple cascade’ growing with silver herbs in a raised bed where it is gradually covering the edge.

Snow-in-summer

(Cerastium tomentosum)

Another alpine that works really well in a well-drained border. Silvery foliage all year round and hundreds of silvery-white flowers in late spring/early summer. I have a full post about it here:

read more »

Snow-in-Summer
H: 30cm, S: 60cm
Flwr: Apr-May

Allium senescent var glaucum — Sep 2021

German Garlic

Allium senescens

I grow two varieties of this alpine onion. Both are good in gravel gardens or for front of the border. Both varieties form clumps of grassy foliage that does not wither until autumn. The first, A. senescense var glaucum has amazing twisted blue-green foliage that looks good from spring to autumn. It produces dense heads of pale mauve-pink flowers in late summer. The second, A. senescens ‘Millenium’ has more upright dark-green foliage. It flowers in mid-summer with vivid purple flower heads. Both are loved by bees.

Allium senescens subsp. glaucum
H: 30cm, S: 30cm
Flwr: Aug-Sep

Allium senescens ‘Millenium
H: 40cm, S: 45cm
Flwr: Jul-Aug

Allium ‘Millennium’ with pale pink Geranium sanguinium striatum – Aug 2023

The Austrian or saw-leaved speedwell, Veronica ‘Kapitan’, growing with pink salvia and Iris sibirica — May 2022

Alpine Speedwells

(Veronica species)

There are many good alpine speedwells to try in the garden, but here two easy-going ones that have been great for me. First, the Austrian speedwell, Veronica austriaca subsp. teucrium. I have one of the named cultivars: ‘Kapitan’. It makes good clumps of sprawling foliage with spires of bright blue speedwell flowers in mid summer.

Veronica austriaca subsp. teucrium ‘Kapitan’
H: 25cm, S: 40cm
Flwr: May-Jun

Veronica prostrata ‘Lilac Time’
H: 10cm, S: 30cm
Flwr: May-Jun

My second alpine speedwell is Veronica prostrata ‘Lilac Time’, a low-growing, mat-forming species that has proven surprisingly durable considering its diminuitive stature. I grew it in a terracotta pot for a couple of years, but it now has a place tucked in at the feet of several taller (but still small) perennials.

Dwarf Bellflower (Campanula ‘Elizabeth Oliver’) growing alongside sedum ‘Spot-on-rose’ – July 2023

Dwarf Bellflower

(Campanula cochlearifolia
‘Elizabeth Oliver’)

For such a delicate-looking plant this tiny bell-flower is surprisingly easy going. I grow it in a couple of locations in my garden and it is remarkably resilient. It creates a gradually spreading mat of fine leaves tight to the ground, from which rise thin stems carrying the prettiest tiny (15mm) pale-blue thimbles — which are double-flowered in this particular cultivar. Totally charming and incredibly easy. Lovely with Gypsophila.

Campanula ‘Elizabeth Oliver’
H: 15cm, S: 40cm
Flwr: Jun-Jul

Such delicate double bell flowers!

Campanula portenschlagiana — Jun 2021

Wall Bellflower

A dense, clump-forming perennial with trailing shoots and heart shaped leaves which, by mid-summer, are smothered in masses of outward-facing violet-blue, starry, bell-shaped flowers. Easy and vigorous, but not invasive, and too small to overwhelm most garden perennials. It tucks in neatly at the base of taller perennials providing a good splash of summer colour. I particularly like the buds and flowers up-close. White-flowered varieties are sometimes offered.

Campanula portenschlagiana
H: 20cm, S: 50cm
Flwr: May-Aug

Providing a mass of colour in summer, Campanula portenschlagiana will hold its own amid taller perennials — Jun 2022

growing Tips

Most of the plants in this article need only to be given a free-draining soil, in an open position to do well. Digging in some grit or sharp-sand will help. They need some direct sun.

Design Potential

Originating from mountainous regions, these alpines look especially at home when planted with gravel or rocks, or between paving stones. Their size makes them front-of-border plants, so they look especially good tumbling onto paths or over the edge of walls. They also look good with mediterranean plants or as part of a naturalistic herb garden.

Sea thrift (Armeria marítima)
H: 30cm, S: 40cm
Flwr: May-Jun

Sea Thrift

(Armeria marítima)

I have a soft spot for thrift. Its neat mounds of grassy evergreen foliage look handsome all year round, and its little spring pom-pom flowers in shades of pink or white look effortlessly natural. It loves self-seeding in paving, where it often grows better (and flowers more readily) than its nursery-bought parent.The one task that is a bit tedious is cutting off the spent flowers in July, but it does look better when tidied up.

Neat grassy foliage — Sep 2023

Clumps of White Sea thrift mark each end of this path — May 2022


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