Alpines, or succulents, must be some of the easiest and, most rewarding, plants to grow. In the patio area I have devoted one large bed and one small completely to alpines.
The popularity of alpine plants stemmed from the mountaineering Victorian middle classes. When in the Alps, enthusiasts began to bring these small hardy plants back to the UK.
I love the quirky appearance of some of my alpines. Though not always traditionally pretty they have an interesting alien-like quality, particularly when they sprout flowers. I can imagine plants like these on Mars or, some far off planet.
A while back I posted a blog titled Everything Is Broken. My large alpine bed was looking a tad sorry for itself and I was feeling fed up about it. I’m pleased to say, the new alpines I added have thrived and there is so much now that is pleasing to the eye. The original plants which had survived are also flowering (see below). I love the dramatic shapes and quirkiness of alpines.
When I planted up the larger alpine bed last Summer, I optimistically anticipated the majority of plants would spread. That has not been the case and, quite a number did not last the Winter; as you can see from the picture, the bed was disappointingly sparse once I’d weeded, with Sedum makinoi and Sempervivum being two of the few alpines that are thriving, along with the silver-blue grass Festuca glauca. Some plants I added too late in the year; perhaps they were more vulnerable to the change and, then to frost. At least the Mares Tails (Equisetum arvense) are not as prolific as they once were which, I am delighted about. Removing them was a back-breaking and time-consuming task. With the bed tidied, I headed to the garden centre to buy more alpines (right photo). I am hopeful these ones do better as I selected only those marked as hardy. At the moment they look very pretty, contrasting against gold-coloured gravel.
With a number of frost-sensitive alpines, grasses and, a palm tree, we had imagined this Winter we would need to cover over the plants. Dan and I dutifully made a trip to a local garden centre and had a chat with a member of staff. To our surprise, he said that it wasn’t necessary to protect the plants unless we had a long stint of below zero temperatures. This Winter has, so far,been unusually warm so covering up the tenders is a job we can hold back on…for now, at least.
It’s intriguing to see which alpines are doing best. Sedum makinoi (pictured left) is spreading with the enthusiasm of a triffid. It has draped itself somewhat languidly over the wall. It should continue to spread further but as it is frost sensitive I need to make sure I find out how to protect it and, some of the other succulents, during the colder months.
When I was at the garden centre recently purchasing bulbs, I decided it would be a prime opportunity to choose a new selection of succulents to add to the large alpine bed. The one I’m particularly keen on is the exotic-looking Lampranthus Orange. If all goes to plan, it will produce wonderfully bright flowers next year. I have also included: Campanula Blue Cups, Mentha requienii – for the scent- and Delosperma Rise and Shine which is another frost sensitive plant.
By next Summer I hope the alpines are established enough to create a strong and compelling display with their striking shapes and colours.
During the Summer I gradually added to the alpine beds I’d planted and, I’m pleased to say, they are spreading and looking fuller. The picture to the left is the smaller bed which, is doing very well. I love the resilience of alpines in the face of the mares’ tales. But even so, I find mares’ tales poking in-between the leaves and the flowers of the alpines I’ve planted. Of course, I pull them up but the roots are incredibly long and tend to snap. One gardener I know recommended digging up all the plants, putting them to one side and, literally, sieving through the earth to remove all traces of this particular weed. Apparently, its millions of years old. No wonder its lasted; is everywhere.
The picture below is of the larger alpine bed which obviously requires a lot more weeding. It really is an ongoing battle with the weeds. Sometimes, I find weeding cathartic. It is more cathartic when I’m weeding the patio beds as they are a manageable size; I can complete the process and, for a while, at least, it all looks as I intended. The borders, however, are a different matter…
Alpines, (or succulents as they are otherwise known) seemed an obvious solution for the raised patio beds. So far, I’ve filled two beds with alpines but, as you can see, I’m still in the process of covering the larger one with gravel. Both beds had an abundance of weeds; my Dad, very kindly, did some digging for me. But the mare’s tails are continuing to pop up. I get rid of them and, like Arnie, they always come back! I guess elimination is going to be a long process, especially as I’ve decided to avoid pesticides wherever possible. I’m hoping as these alpines spread, then the weeds will be submerged by them.