10 of the Best Alpines for Your Garden
Alpines (plants native to Alpine and other northern, rocky climates) are the unsung heroes of the garden world. They are easy to grow, drought-resistant and there are hundreds to choose from. Here are 10 of the best.
This well-known culinary herb comes in many varieties and planting several together can look very attractive. Choose a few, such as lemon thyme, caraway thyme and common thyme for flavor in the kitchen, while golden or silver varieties will make an eye-catching display. Creeping thyme makes excellent ground cover, while scented varieties planted on a path will release a splendid aroma as you walk. Pictured is Breckland thyme (thymus serpyllum).
Houseleeks (aka Hens and Chickens) come in many colors and sizes, but these versatile succulents are very easy to establish and don’t need much attention as they’re fairly hardy. Most have beautiful symmetrical leaf rosettes, and colors include green, pink and red. They produce tall flowers from the center of the rosette (cut them back after flowering). Houseleeks are easy to propagate. Simply break off a floret and plant it!
As well as making great ground cover, houseleeks also look great in hanging baskets for the winter. Check out these tips for planting succulents outdoors successfully.
Stonecrops (aka Sedum) are another kind of succulent that make a great addition to any rock garden. They have thick leaves that retain water well, so they’re a good choice for areas with hot, dry summers. Flowers are usually tiny and star-shaped. With over 400 species to choose from, and a wide range of leaf shapes and colors, there’s a stonecrop to suit every taste.
Many stonecrops flower in the fall, making them an important food source for bees when other flowers are fading. If you’d like to keep bees, check out our backyard beekeeping tips.
Saxifrage is one of the most popular rock garden plants. Also known as rockfoils, saxifrages produce a luxuriant carpet of leaves, with delicate 5-petaled flowers in pink, red, purple and white.
The name Saxifrage means “stone-breaker, as these plants flourish in the tiniest of cracks. They also look wonderful in an alpine container, like an old stone sink. Why not take a look at these other great plants for a garden container?
The sight of a cascade of purple-flowered aubretia flowing over a wall is one to take your breath away. There are more than 20 varieties of aubretia, with colors ranging from deep purple to powdery lilac, as well as white, so you have the choice of opting for a single color for impact or different colors for interest.
Aubretia is a superb choice for edging a raised garden bed – follow our detailed guide to see how to construct your own.
Mention irises and most people think of the tall flag iris which make such a striking addition to a garden pond. But small varieties look fabulous in a rock garden, providing a flash of color in late winter and early spring, long before many other rockery plants. The purple flowers carry a hint of orchid design, and some are scented! Miniature iris also look wonderful teamed with other species in spring containers.
Dwarf Daffodils & Narcissus
Daffodils and narcissus are the essence of a spring flower display, and by choosing miniature varieties you can include them in your rock garden. Specially bred to stay small, these dwarf species nevertheless retain all the best features of their larger cousins. For a traditional small-scale daffodil, choose the “Tete-a-tete” variety, while the “Niveth” narcissus has delicately scented white flowers.
Spring flowering bulbs must be planted in the fall. See what other spring-blooming bulbs to plant before winter sets in.
Miniature cyclamen also offer a “scaled-down” version of a larger plant that’s ideal for an alpine garden. The ivy-leaved cyclamen produces blooms of pinks, purple and white in the fall, while “Pewter Mist” has lovely silvery foliage. These fall-flowering cyclamen make good ground cover, but they’re deciduous in summer, so don’t be surprised if they disappear when the sun shines!
Once established, cyclamen require little maintenance. Here are some more low maintenance landscaping ideas for the busy gardener.
Alpine pinks are renowned for their delicious scent, but they also have other benefits. The dark green leaves of these mat-forming plants are good for ground cover, while the taller pink flowers range from the palest of pink to the deepest cerise. There are also white varieties such as “Berlin Snow” and some have white petals with colored centers like “Starry Eyes.”
Pinks are great for adding a splash of color – why not team them with these other plants to brighten up your garden?
Dwarf varieties of bell flower are the prettiest of alpine plants. Blessed with bright green foliage, these plants also have delicate bell or star-like flowers that nod gently in the breeze. A particular favorite is Fairies Thimble (campanula cochlearifolia) that has tiny powder-blue flowers.
Alpines look especially beautiful in pots and tubs, but these can be heavy to move around. Take a peek at our sneaky tips for making this easier.