Rock gardens make brilliant features. They’re striking, low maintenance, easy to build with kids and look good all year round. Alpine plants are perfect if you’re pushed for space or want to create a stylish low-key area.
What are alpines?
They are small, compact plants originally found in mountainous and Alpine regions. Most are dwarf or slow-growing and grow best in dry, rocky outcrops.
But don’t be put off by their small size – they come in a huge array of shapes, colours and types of foliage. Many are also evergreen, so you can enjoy their colour all year round.
Most garden retailers carry a wide range of alpines all year round, so head over there and choose your favourites!
Why build a rockery?
Building your own rockery couldn’t be easier. It’s the perfect challenge for a budding gardener and will last for years. Rock gardens are really low-maintenance, so you won’t need to spend loads of time and energy pruning, feeding and watering the plants.
They are also great homes for insects and make a fantastic project to get kids into the garden.
What do I do?
Alpines like well-drained soil and are used to growing at high altitude above tree level in arid conditions. Dig out the soil and add in a mixture of grit and sand to aid drainage.
Now you can add your boulder features. Your local garden centre or DIY store will stock stones and rocks in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colours. Try and break up the area with different levels, ledges, cracks and contours to create a dramatic background for your plants.
Dig the boulders in – one third underground and two thirds above – so they are stable. As the rockery matures, the stones will naturally attract mosses and lichens that add extra colour and interest.
How do I plant it?
Dot your alpines around the rocks. My two favourites are sedums and saxifraga, but there are dozens of varieties available.
The break up the rockery with other plants to add different heights and textures. Try thrifts, sedges, rock roses, dwarf conifers and ornamental grasses. My favourite is Morning Star Deep Rose, which has rich pink flowers that contrast nicely against the grey stones.
You can also throw in some early spring and summer bulbs to add height and extra colour and scent to your rockery. Try crocus, iris and dwarf reticulata.
And to finish?
Scatter coloured gravel around the larger boulders. This gives a stylish surface finish so experiment with different textures and particle sizes to add loads of interest.
Sharp gravel will also deter slugs who don’t like its jagged edges. That’s especially beneficial for alpines whose fleshy, juicy leaves and petals are very popular with slugs and snails.
Now you have a unique landscape in your garden, borders or patio edge!
Want more garden features? Here’s how to design a herbaceous flower border!
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
Thanks for your article. A common misconception that people have is that alpines only flower in the late spring and early summer. But by choosing the varieties carefully alpines can flower from February to the end of October and by selecting alpines with different coloured evergreen foliage the rock garden can literally have all year round interest – I think alpine plants are great for the modern, smaller gardens.
very helpful as I’m planning an alpine garden.
Alpain garden was my project for this year,and i love it .looks so beautiful already , although is still in early stage
Great information, I have started a rock garden ,rocks in situ going to finish now thank you ..