Alpine gardening for beginners, by John Good
There can be few more important things for a learned, specialist plant society to do than to encourage new gardeners to take up the specialism. Just exactly how to do that is the trick, of course. After all, the specialist society has to assume that new members are already reasonably keen gardeners, and so will not appreciate being treated as complete novices. On the other hand, these new enthusiasts need all the proper information to encourage them to begin their journey to expertise, and also to prevent them from making elementary and discouraging mistakes. The Alpine Garden Society - perhaps because of the extreme difficulty of nurturing some of the plants that we call ‘alpines’ - has always understood well the importance of telling gardeners the basics, and how to get the basics right, while not assuming complete ignorance.
This attitude plainly underpins the latest booklet to be published by the society, Alpine Gardening for Beginners by Dr John Good. He has made a pretty decent fist of the subject. Without patronising his readers, he lays out the potential pitfalls of alpine gardening and how to avoid them. In the space of eighty eight pages, about half of which are taken up with photographs and descriptions of rewarding, attractive and reasonably easy-to-grow rock plants, bulbs and dwarf conifers, Dr Good tackles types and aspects of rock gardens (including raised beds, screes, ponds, and bog gardens), where to site them, how to construct them, and then how to plant and maintain them. Finally, there is information on how to propagate these alpines, by cuttings, seed and division.
Dr Good does not flinch from dealing with the design aspects of rock gardening, acknowledging that many alpine enthusiasts have gardens, which are as flat as pancakes. For those of us who garden in lowland areas, alpine gardens can seem intrinsically artificial; however, as he shows, it is possible, with care, to make them look quite ‘natural’ or at least no less natural than an herbaceous border. The advice on planning plantings is particularly useful. A directory, by region, of recommended suppliers of stone, grit, rock plants and other indispensable ingredients of alpine gardening, would certainly have been helpful, although I appreciate that such a section can date quite quickly.
The diagrams are clear and well-labelled, and the many colour pictures enlightening and often alluring. If I have a slight quarrel with this book, it is with its slightly hectoring tone; the direct approach to the reader is something that, in a short publication, is perhaps hard to avoid, when words are always at a premium, but it can seem rather bossy. However, for anyone who does not mind that, this book should prove an excellent introduction to alpine gardening. And, as far as the construction and layout of a rock garden or bed is concerned, it may well prove all a beginner will ever need.
© Ursula Buchan 2010
Ursula Buchan is a leading garden writer and consultant