Alpines thrive in North East gardens
PUBLISHED: 16:14 20 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:14 20 February 2013
After a harsh winter, Linda Viney's thoughts turn to the delicate looking alpine plants that grow high on the mountains of the world, but thrive in our North East rockeries
In their natural habitat snow protects the alpine plants from the elements by forming a protective blanket over them.
They are fascinating plants, and so I went find out more from an enthusiastic alpine grower in Stocksfield in Northumberland. George Young became hooked on alpines over 30 years ago when he married his wife Carola.
They had a marquee for the reception in the garden of his future parents-in-law and to make the grounds look at their best, he helped tidy the rockeries and visited Hartside Nursery - a hardy plant nursery high in the North Pennines - to buy more alpines.
George said: I love they way they grow especially the rounded cushions of the Bolax and Androsace which are floriferous for their size.
He visited the local Ponteland Show and met up with other growers, specialists and nurserymen gathering information. He is fortunate as over the years he has acquired several alpine houses which are now full of plants.
If you arent lucky enough to have an alpine house, just protect them from the wet, which they wont tolerate, he said. One of the easiest plants to start with is the resilient saxifragas.
His passion for alpines has led them on trips to Switzerland, Italy, trekking in the Himalayas and New Zealand. He has even named an alpine after his wife Primula Grangefield Carola.
In his alpine house the pots are sunk into sand on the benches. Although clay pots are the best, they can prove expensive so he does use some plastic ones.
He makes the medium out of John Innes no2, grit and fine grade composted bark in equal parts. This mix is adjusted to suit the plant, however the Androsaces are acid loving and require ericaceous compost mixed with grit and composted bark.
George is fortunate to have access to woodland and makes his own
In their half acre garden, which consists of woodland, vegetable garden, small orchard, lawn, rock gardens, everywhere you turn there are troughs, raised beds and alpine greenhouses.
In a small fenced off area he has three defunct chest freezers which he has adapted for growing seed, either from his own plants or those distributed from the Alpine Garden Society (AGS), Scottish Rock Garden Club or swapped with other growers.
If seed is sown in November/December it will germinate the following spring and the thrill of seeing the first tiny shoots appear is reward in itself.
George has created raised beds out of railway sleepers which can be covered to protect from the wet. He stresses you do need free flowing air as the scourge of alpines is botrytis which thrives in moist conditions.
Their peak flowering time is April/May but if you do it right they will start flowering in February, and certainly when I visited there were several already flowering. The bulbous plants are grown in frames so the lids can be lifted off when it rains for watering.
Water is collected from the roofs into barrels giving him 2,000 litres of storage, which in the main is all that is needed for watering in the alpine houses. He waters round the perimeter of the pot to ensure the plant itself doesnt run the risk of becoming waterlogged.
Georges advice when creating a rock garden is to clear the area, mark the outline with rocks to the right height and get rid of all weeds. Once all killed - this probably will take seven to ten days - add your grit and compost and start planting.
The grit will gradually sink down so just add more. Dont make the mistake I once did and dig out or you will end up with a pond! he smiled.
Alpines are great plants, even if you have a small back yard. A few troughs (which can be raised to prevent the need for bending), will bring a great deal of pleasure.
Like all forms of gardening common sense prevails. Visit shows, ask questions or join your local Alpine Garden Society. You may get hooked and start showing yourself, after all the pots are easy to transport and you will make new friends and have fun, which after all is what gardening is all about.
If you are tempted to join the Alpine Garden Society contact Terry Teal telephone 0191 413 2574 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.