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Autumn alpine flowers

November 27, 2021
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Apart from the usual suspects which I’ve already covered in my Autumn in the Rock Garden feature, there are several other alpine flowers that are at their best in autumn.

autumn alpine flowers sedum

Sedum ewersii

Two sedums

Sedums are often regarded as weeds, not worth growing in the rock garden. Some are, but others are very useful and prolong the season. Two that I would not be without are Sedum ewersii and Sedum hidakanum. They are both creeping plants, rooting as they go, and they flower from July/August onwards until the end of October. Or even into November if the weather is mild.

Placement and planting

These are the easiest plants possible to grow, requiring only a very free draining, sunny site. You can even grow them quite happily in a gravel path! All you need to do is dibble in small pieces – they are very shallow rooted – water well, and within weeks they will be forming a patch. They are especially good for growing among rocks or at the edge of a path. While they grow freely and can expand to cover large areas in little time, they are very easy to keep in check because of their shallow roots. The one thing I would guard against is allowing them to grow into other, perhaps choicer cushion plants. They can be difficult to disentangle without lifting the cushion, which is not what you want.

autumn alpine flowers Sedum hidakanum

Sedum hidakanum

Fascicularia bicolor

This spectacular member of the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae) is hardy in all but the coldest parts of the UK. But only if you grow it in a very sunny, perfectly drained site. It looks well in a dry-stone wall or, as seen here, in a bouldery scree or rock garden. It is a slow grower, adding one or two rosettes each year.

These are unremarkable for most of the year, but in late summer all the latent beauty and interest of the plant is revealed. Then, the leaves at the centre of the rosette start to change from green to red as the flower cluster starts to develop at its heart. The climax arrives when the fully formed flattish disc of flowers changes gradually from anonymous pale green, to stunning sky blue. At this stage it is one of what I call the ‘ooooh’ plants in our garden, as few have ever seen it before and most gasp at their first encounter.

Placement and planting

Placement has already been dealt with, but first obtain your plant. You will not find it in a garden centre but may see it in the list of nurserymen who specialise in such ‘oddities’. It will be pot grown, probably in very gritty compost that drops off the roots with alarming alacrity. Worry not, if it does not I would advise removing it anyway! Scoop out a hole where you want it to go (this may be easier if the soil is well wetted first). Then pop it in and draw soil back round the roots, making sure not to cover the vulnerable crown. Water thoroughly, and again if the soil becomes very dry, and it should grow away well.


The only means I have ever employed is to sever newly forming rosettes from the edge of the clump in spring, making sure that each has some decent roots. Place the divisions in pots of gritty compost, water well and place in a semi-shaded spot.

autumn alpine flowers

Fascicularia bicolor, close-up

Repeat flowerers

Some alpines reliably flower in the spring or early summer and again in the autumn. In some cases, such as Potentilla eriocarpa, there is hardly a let-up, flowering being almost continuous until late October. This is an easy creeping carpeter that roots as it goes. Propagation couldn’t be simpler, just dig out a piece and pop it in elsewhere. It is worth keeping an eye on its progression as it can quite rapidly ‘invade’ other cushion plants and is difficult to remove.


Potentilla eriocarpa

Another good repeat flowerer in our garden isĀ Sisyrynchium angustifolium. This is a member of the iris family from the N. American prairies where it is known as ‘Blue-eyed grass’. Unlike some other sisyrynchiums which you may see offered in catalogues, this one is not going to become a menace by seeding around. It slowly grows into a clump from which pieces are easily detached for propagation. It flowers best in full sun in a rich but freely drained situation. As I write on 21 October it is once more in full flower, brightening up a patch in a scree.

Sisyrinchium angustifolium

Sisyrinchium angustifolium, flowering again in September

John Good

John Good

Our author is a retired research forest ecologist and Emeritus Professor of Environmental Forestry at Bangor University. Throughout his life, John has been interested in all aspects of the observation and cultivation of plants. Alpines and woodlanders were always of particular appeal. He has called North Wales his home for more than 40 years. John and his wife, Pam, have developed and enjoyed their current hillside garden overlooking the sea for the last 27 years.

He joined the AGS over five decades ago. During this time John has served as AGS Director of Publications, Assistant Editor of our journal and as judge at our shows. After years of serving on the RHS Joint Rock Garden Plant Committee, he is now a friend.

John has travelled and lectured widely on alpines and written many articles and several books on the subject. He has also always been heavily involved in his local North Wales Group.

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