Growing and displaying alpines

There are many different ways of growing and displaying these lovely plants to fit with different styles and sizes of gardens. Container growing and raised beds are particularly suitable for alpines, and can provide the good drainage that most need. Rock gardens are more traditional, often associated with larger gardens, along with a more contemporary version of this style of crevice gardens. Scree and gravel gardens require less construction and can  combine well with other features. All these styles can also be created on a smaller version in a container or raised bed. Other suitable situations include in crevices of walls and between paving. Some are suitable for a position near the front of a bed or border, or for creating a low level layer of planting. They all need to be somewhere where they are easy to view to enjoy their beauty.

Many of the plants will grow quite happily in these situations, but some may prefer the protection of a frame or alpine house.

Alpine trough


Containers offer an ideal way to grow and display alpine plants, fitting any type of garden.  In a small garden they offer the opportunity of displaying a world in miniature in a limited space. In a larger garden they can be used to create an individual garden room or area. Some alpines are suitable for a striking display as a focal point in a garden. Others, you may need to be able to view at close range to fully appreciate their beauty.

A typical alpine container is a stone trough. There are also many troughs made of other materials to look like stone. Sinks are another popular choice. Make sure you have sufficient drainage holes in the bottom as alpines hate to sit in soggy soil or compost. Some alpines such as sempervivums and sedums will generally grow well in shallow troughs or containers. Others prefer a greater depth. Many are used to sending their roots way down between rocky crevices to moisture in the soil beneath and these plants like a deep, cool root run.  

Collections are available in the Shop for containers, or select your own favourites to grow together. Some alpines spread far more quickly than others, so think of this when selecting suitable plants.

Individual clay or plastic pots are great for displaying specimen alpines to good effect. Choose the pot to suit the alpines you are planting. For example, a shallow clay pot would display sempervivums well. The rosettes will gradually spread, mounding and tumbling over the sides of the pot. The flowers of Lewisia Elise are displayed well in individual containers. Specimens of Primula auricula are very often displayed in individual pots. The auricula theatre is magnificent, where plants are displayed in rows on shelves. There is no reason why this shouldn't be used for a range of alpine plants.
Larger pots or troughs can display a miniature alpine scene. Carefully arranged rocks can be used to create crevices to plant between, providing the cool root run that alpines love.
Quirky containers can add interest and perhaps humour to the garden, plus this can be a good method of recycling. You could use a pair of old boots, a watering can, an old garden trug or wheelbarrow - the list is endless. The more traditional container is an old sink. Always make sure to put sufficient drainage holes in any of these items!

In paths and paving

A patio or path that has gaps between the paving can be made far more interesting with the addition of some plants. This will create a more informal feel to the garden. Make sure you are not planting along the main and well trodden routes, but plant in corners and sides. There will need to be soil underneath the paving slabs for the alpine roots to reach. In situations where there are no gaps for planting, alpines could be planted along the sides of the paving to soften the edges.


Rock Gardens and Crevice Gardens

Both rock gardens and crevice gardens offer opportunities to create displays on a grand scale. However, it is also possible to recreate the effects on a smaller scale. Rock gardens tend to use larger chunks of rocks arranged to imitate natural outcrops. Crevice gardens use rocks vertically, again imitating natural strata lines. The pockets between the rocks provide wonderful conditions for alpines, with a cool root run beneath the rocky surface.  

Not many gardens have the space to create a feature of this sort on the scale of the rock gardens created in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of the general ideas of the more successful ones can be used on a smaller scale, perhaps applied to a stone trough or raised bed, arranging smaller rocks to replicate a stony outcrop, or inserting slates vertically to create planting pockets inbetween.

Alpine plants are well suited to growing in many situations where other plants might struggle. They can be planted in a bed at the top of a wall, or in planting pockets or crevices within the wall. Plants that have a trailing habit are particularly suitable for cascading down the sides to create spectacular floral displays. Sempervivums may be planted in crevices or in the top, along with some of the cushion alpines.

Armeria raised bed

Raised Beds

The well drained conditions that alpines like can be created easily by using raised beds. The extra height can also make them easier to view the plants and look after them. There are many different types of raised beds available now, including wooden, metal and plastic kits. A stone built raised bed would work well with alpine plants, but other options could be used for a variety of design effects. 

Alpine display greenhouse

Alpine Houses and frames

There are several plants that benefit from a little more protection and are more suitable for growing under cover. An alpine greenhouse or cold frame provide a wonderful opportunity to display these. A display on greenhouse staging or bench will also bring the plants up to eye level. The most important thing is to provide plenty of ventilation for the alpines. Extra louvres in the greenhouse will help, along with manual or automatic vents, and wide opening doors. Aim for as much ventilation as you can if you are buying a new greenhouse or adapting an existing one.
A traditional way of displaying alpines is to use a deep bench, or plunge beds. These may be filled with sand and terracotta pots sunk into the sand. Very strong benches are needed for this method. They will not dry out as quickly this way and can provide an interesting and more natural display. Alternatively, pots can just be stood on sturdy staging and moved around as required. Slatted staging allows the water to drain away more easily.
Shading will be needed in very sunny weather, which can be special blinds for the greenhouse, shade netting, or a painted or sprayed on shade paint.

Scree gardens and gravel gardens
A scree bed is one which has naturally formed at the base of a mountain and consists of rocky fragments. These can be effective ways to display alpines in a garden, even if the mountain isn't there! It could be at the base of a rock garden, a group of rocks or a stone wall. It could be just a feature on its own, maybe adjacent to a path or patio.
Gravel gardens are an excellent ways of growing and displaying alpines and a wide range of drought tolerant plants. Make sure the ground is well prepared, thoroughly removing any perennial weeds and improving drainage if necessary. A layer of weed suppressant membrane can be laid on top of the soil if required, cutting slits through this for planting. The idea is that weeds do not grow up through but the water can percolate down. Top the area with a deep layer of gravel of your choice. A colour could be chosen that matches any other adjacent hard landscape materials, or maybe provides an interesting contrast. The occasional large rock can be placed in the bed to imitate a natural scree.