Rock gardens are great features for breathing life into areas of the garden with shallow or poor soil. Alpines in particular flourish in these spots, as in the wild they grow in rocky, mountainous regions and this can be easily re-created in your garden.
They are often an underrated group of plants. These plants are hardy, low-maintenance and drought-tolerant. Often alpines have colourful flowers and can be incorporated to brighten up any barren patch. Plus, they can also be grown in the cracks and crevices of stone, between paving slabs and in pockets on the top of walls.
So, read on to discover the best plants for your rockery garden.
How to plant alpines
Most alpines can be planted at any time of year. But they’ll establish faster if you plant them in spring or autumn. If you are unsure of the appropriate planting time, check the label or enquire at a garden centre.
Alpines are not usually fussy plants but they do not like to be in waterlogged soil.
Take the plant out of its pot and tease out the roots. They naturally grow very long to seek water amongst the rocks. Plant it in the garden, backfill with gritty soil and give it a thorough watering. Remember not to overwater and bear in mind that they may not require watering more than once.
To prevent aggressive spreading, occasionally trim them back after flowering to keep them in check.
For more information, see my guide on how to create an alpine rock garden.
Here are my top 10 alpine plants for the rockery:
This is also known as the Pasque flower. It has frilly leaves and hairy stems bearing bell-shaped flowers. It also produces lovely silken seed heads.
This Mediterranean herb is also a decorative plant, producing purple flowers and tiny green leaves. Look for creeping thyme if you want it to spread.
Sometimes called houseleeks, these easy-to-please alpine succulents have intricate leaf rosettes. They come in a range of colours but need a spot in full sun to keep their vibrant hue.
Aubrieta is a carpeting plant that produces masses of purple flowers in late spring. It has rough, hairy leaves and can be any tone from pale lilac to deep violet.
The bellflower plant has hundreds of varieties with varying heights, flower sizes and colours. Alpine campanulas have a carpeting habit and produce tonnes of blue, white or purple bell-shaped flowers.
Commonly called Spanish Chamomile or Mount Atlas Daisy, this alpine plant has ferny leaves and small white or yellow daisy-like flowers borne on long stems.
Sedum plants are sometimes called stonecrop and are perfect alpine plants for a rockery. They have succulent leaves and clusters of tiny star-shaped flowers in summer.
Saxifraga forms a mat of growth, making it a great choice for adding greenery to alpine rock gardens. The plants produce beautiful flowers in white, pink, red, yellow and purple.
Spring gentian is grown for its striking deep sky-blue star-shaped flowers. It forms a low-growing mat and flowers in late spring and early summer.
Alpine varieties of dianthus or pinks flowers are stunning in the rockery. They are heavily scented and have grey or bluish foliage, with flowers in pink, white and purple.
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.
I am just in the process of taking delivery of a large bag of Top soil ,alpine chippings, bags of compost, and bags of manure, I am hoping to improve the soil am I overdoing it,the plants in your top Ten are just what I am looking forward to growing many thanks in advance for any advice.
Kind regards Peter Scott
Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you are doing everything right! Remember to make sure the plants do not become waterlogged and you should have no problems.
Good luck, I hope this helps.
in the throws of putting together a small rockery & wondering what to grow…
then I came across your very helpful list!
Now next job is to find what you have suggested!!
Thanks for your advice.
Are any of these plants deer resistant???
Thanks for your comment. Yes! These plants are all listed as deer resistant.
I hope this helps!
Just created a raised bed around a large tree in my backyard. Looking to plant some low growing plants. Preferably perennials. What would you suggest?
Thanks for your comment. I would suggest Arenaria montana ‘Avalanche’, Aubrieta ‘Royal Red’, Sedum selskianum ‘Spirit’ and Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’. These are just a few of the low-growing pernnials that will look great around your tree! I hope this helps!
Hi Dave, are any if the alpine listed here invasive over the others? I had a varied planting that was eventually completely covered by one white aubretia (I think). How do I avoid this when I start again? Thank you.
Thank’s for your comment. Many of the plants on this list are not actually invasive, but are instead rapid and aggressive spreaders. This can have some obvious benefits, such as rapid growth, or more negative outcomes like you have experienced with your White Aubretia. I would suggest Saxifraga, which are also rapid spreaders, but can be controlled by planting them in containers, or with careful pruning and mulching. I hope this helps!
We bought a home that has clay soil and they “landscaped” huge areas with medium sized rocks over weed cloth. Is there anyway to throw soil over the top of these and plant thyme or other mat and have them grow to add plants? It is so harsh and plain
Thank’s for your comment. It’s hard to say without knowing the exact details of your garden, but adding an organic matter to the area will improve the soil and also enable you to grow new plants. If the weed cloth is made from plastic, or is old and torn, then it may be worth removing it. This can be done in sections to make it less of a daunting task. Finally, clay soil is usually rich in nutrients, so try and make the most of it by incorporating plants that thrive in clay soils. I hope this helps!
Would it be possible to plant Arenaria Montana behind the fence which has afternoon sun but no sun at winter time?
Thank’s for your comment. Arenaria montana (Mountain daisy) require full sun or partial shade, so it may suffer if there is no sun at all. However, it is quite a hardy plant that can grow easily in crevices, so I do not think you will have too much trouble. I hope this helps!
Hi David can you advise me on a few nice plants to grow in an Alpine house
This blog should help you. These are my top 10 alpine plants: https://www.daviddomoney.com/rockery-plants-top-10-plants-for-an-alpine-rock-garden/
I have a creeper type flower in my rockery that I’ve forgotten the name of. I know it has Dainty in there, but don’t know the other word. It’s bell shaped, white with pink stripes going into the centre. I had it last year and tried to find the pot it came in without success. Can you name it for me please ? I can send a photo if that’s possible. Thanks.
Hi George please send a photo to [email protected]