We love gentians! And Gentiana occidentalis is a particularly delightful form. Read on to discover how to grow this gorgeous plant in your own garden.
Gentiana occidentalis (aka Pyrenean trumpet gentian) is native to the Pyrenees and mountains of Northern Spain. It grows to around 10cm (4 inches) tall, flowers profusely in spring and summer, and has delightful evergreen leaves.
You can tell Gentiana occidentalis apart from other trumpet gentians (Gentiana acaulis) by taking a careful look at its sepal teeth (the green flute that holds the flower at the base of the petals). In Gentiana occidentalis, these teeth are very distinct and curve away from the flower, but then back towards it, ending in an inwards-facing point.
A true alpine, Pyrenean trumpet gentian is often seen flowering freely on our alpine plant tours – usually between 3,000 and 10,000 feet above sea level. Impressive or what?!
Fortunately, though, you don’t have to live halfway up a mountain to grow this gentian at home!
AGS member, David Charlton, grows Gentiana occidentalis beautifully in pots and troughs at his home in Derbyshire.
Here it is in all its glory…
This particular gentian has been on the go for a whopping 30 years! But it hasn’t always been plain sailing. David initially struggled to get gentians to flower as they disagreed with his garden’s heavy clay soil.
We asked David to tell us more:
‘The original plant was a present to my parents in 1990. They planted it in their lowland Lincolnshire garden on well-drained limestone. It thrived, and delighted my father because I was struggling to persuade trumpet gentians to flower in my Derbyshire garden on heavy clay!
‘My father died in 2001. By 2013, when my mother moved into a care home, the plant was nearly a metre in length. The house was put up for sale.
Gentiana occidentalis has a long history in my family and is of great sentimental value to me
‘On a frosty day in December I dug up the entire plant and carried it to my home in Derbyshire on a large sheet of polythene. I planted as much as I could, complete with its limy Lincolnshire soil, in a trough.
‘The plant flourished and the following spring had at least 70 flowers. Success at last!’
With this story in mind, it’s no wonder David says that ‘Gentiana occidentalis has a long history in my family and is of great sentimental value to me.’
Here’s a photo of the plant enjoying its trough in David’s garden…
In fact, David says that trumpet gentians turn out to be easy to grow, as long as you follow a few simple rules. So, even if you’ve failed to grow gentians in the past, there’s hope for you yet!
And the Royal Horticultural Society agrees. Trumpet gentians received an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the RHS again this year.
What does it mean to get an AGM? It means these plants look fabulous, are easy to get hold of, and grow well in UK gardens without highly specialised conditions. Perfect.
So, what are these simple rules you need to follow to get Gentiana occidentalis to thrive? Put simply, you need to act like a mountain.
Like many alpine plants, gentians grow on mountainsides where they get lots of bright sunshine. At the same time, though, they’re kept cool by the refreshing mountain breeze.
You can recreate this at home by giving your gentian a bright spot that doesn’t get too hot in summer.
Perhaps you have an open sunny spot which gets a lot of airflow to cool it down? Or perhaps you have a spot that enjoys full sun at either end of the day, but is shaded from the midday heat?
Another option is to grow this gentian in a container in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse, where you can control the temperature with vents, shades and fans.
As with all alpine plants, there’s no need to worry about cold protection. They’re full hardy throughout the UK, even in the most severe winters.
David’s attempts to grow gentians on heavy clay failed because gentians, in nature, grow on elevated rocky outcrops. While these outcrops get lots of rain, the water also drains away quickly.
This creates those sought-after ‘moist but well-drained’ conditions that so many classic alpine plants pine after.
In David’s heavy clay soil, too much moisture was retained around the plant, causing its roots to rot. Once he fixed this by planting the pot in free-draining soil in a trough, it flourished. Hooray!
If you fancy creating a rock garden for your gentians, build it above your usual soil height, so that it acts like a miniature mountain. Keep it watered, but not waterlogged and your gentians should be happy.
Not up for an entire rock garden? Fulfil your gentians’ mountainous desires by popping it in a container of gritty, free-draining compost.
If you want to go full alpine enthusiast about it, you could even invest in a sand plunge. Sand plunges are fabulous for creating ‘moist but well-drained’ conditions.
There you have it! Everything you need to get going with Gentiana occidentalis.
Alternatively, you can check out our list of specialist alpine nurseries for where to find this plant.