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Rocky wonder show: Versatile Alpines are year-round pleasers and thrive in stone containers

Rocky wonder show: Versatile Alpines are year-round pleasers and thrive in stone containers

  • Nigel Colborn says that alpine sinks or troughs can become year-round features
  • UK-based garden expert says they can be raised on bricks or stone 
  • Added that trough gardens are versatile and soil types can suit different plants
  • Says that most mountain plants flower in Spring or early Summer 

With all the recent heat, let’s imagine something cool. How about a stroll in the Alps? Those rocky slopes below the snowline will still be carpeted with small but intensely pretty plants. Down in the valley it’s high summer.

 But in the mountains, spring lingers on. Butterflies and bees cruise above the flower-rich, grassland. Most of these mountain plants would thrive in a rock garden, but some of the more fancy ones deserve a more prominent spot. That’s why Alpine sinks or troughs work so well.

 If wisely placed and thoughtfully planted, they become year-round features, with colour from winter bulbs to autumn gentians. 

Sinks or troughs can be raised on bricks or stone, making maintenance simpler and the display easier to view closely. Trough gardens are also versatile. You can’t choose the soil type in your garden. 

But with a trough — or container — you can use acidic, neutral or lime rich soils to suit different plants. 

With several troughs, you could have different soils in each. Impede drainage, and you could create a tiny sphagnum bog that would support sundews, even pitcher plants such as Sarracenia. Fanciful? Perhaps, but perfectly possible. 

Nigel Colborn says that alpine sinks or troughs can become year-round features. UK-based garden expert says they can be raised on bricks or stone

ALL-YEAR COLOUR 

Most mountain plants flower in spring or early summer. A few, such as Asian gentians, are autumn flowering . For experienced growers, there are superb but challenging plants such as slipper orchids.

 If you’re new to the game, begin with some of the dozens of beautiful, easy trough plants, such as aubrieta which are low growing and flower in shades of blue, mauve and pink. Aubrieta forms a floral mat which can be easily cut back. Bulbs are inexpensive and among the easiest to grow. 

Tiny crocuses, hoop petticoat narcissus or dwarf winter cyclamen could get you started. Later, you could go for more sought-after bulbs such as rare fritillaries or named snowdrop varieties. 

Most are affordable but the record price at auction for one Galanthus Golden Tears aubrieta bulb was £1,850. It was clearly someone’s must-have bulb. Low-growing Cyclamen corm and various dwarf narcissus could link winter with spring.

Saxifrages, pasque flowers and small Alpine primulas could continue the show. Among those, Primula marginata has grey-green leaves and clusters of lilac-mauve flowers. 

Other compact primulas include cream-flowered Lady Greer and rosy purple P. x pubescens Boothman’s Variety. 

TERRIFIC TROUGHS 

Genuine, old stone sinks or troughs make lovely miniature gardens, but specially manufactured antique-style containers still look good and will improve with age. Whichever you choose make sure it drains freely. 

Soil types for troughs will depend on your plants’ preferences. Those from acidic regions need lime-free conditions. A successful trough soon becomes a focal point. To achieve this, every plant must be a star. 

Space is limited, so avoid plants that might smother their neighbours. American stream orchid, Epipactis gigantea is one star. Its exotic, complex flowers are pale green, rust and dusky pink. Unlike pernickety slipper orchids, it’s pretty easy to grow. 

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