In Defence of the Alpine Garden
‘Alpines, I’ve tried those and they all died!’ This is a common lament and to be honest there is quite a lot of truth in it. So why should I try to convince you to think about these plants again for your garden? Quite simply because they are the most beautiful and fascinating flowers in the world! And in the words of the indefatigable plant hunter, Frank Kingdom-Ward, ‘Rock Gardening is Fun!’. While some will never be easy to grow, others, given care and thought (attributes of all good gardeners), can bring the extraordinary magic of the mountains down into our gardens. Competition with each other is the lot of most plants but alpines are constrained simply by the harsh climate and geography of their home. The consequence is a jewel-like beauty, a typically compact and free-flowering habit and often a strongly perennial life.
Why is it,then, with our sophisticated and abiding passion for gardening that so many gardeners turn their backs on these pretty little plants? Is it a sign that gardeners are no longer drawn to a challenge? Or that the modern craze for instant effect takes away from a deeper understanding and care for plants? Or is it, as many would say, simply fashion? Whichever, or all of these, our gardens are the eventual losers.
chance to watch and tend for them closely is a great learning experience.
Nothing worthwhile is achieved without effort and this is so true of a garden which occupies you in many different ways. Where the mixed border is an overall feast for the eyes, the alpine bed is more a kaleidoscope of individual plants, all with their particular origins. And it is this personal history of the plants that is so entrancing. Where do they come from? What climate do they experience in their natural homes? How are they best propagated? Which of your friends would like a plant? We stand back from the garden border and admire it, but with alpines a deeper and more intimate conversation ensues.
There is room for both of course and few of us who love alpines don’t also grow many other plants too. And this gives the lie to the criticism that they are only for the specialist. They can add to any garden and are so varied that they can suit all tastes. Some gardeners may travel to their mountain homes where they look their best, and be keen to relive these memories back in their own gardens. Some may relish the challenge of growing them as well as possible by tuning in to their needs. Others may enjoy the excitement of sowing seed and taking cuttings and sharing plants with their friends. Or still more of collecting particular genera or species from certain regions. The scope is wide and never ending and gives the alpine garden arguably the greatest stimulation of any branch of gardening.
So here is why you should think of growing alpines in your garden. You will learn a lot along the way and find that the world opens up in front of your eyes. Much more you will meet others who delight in those high places too, and be able to share in a whole new experience of gardening. Try it and see.