The Accidental Alpine

Quite a few years ago, when we were trying to sell a small but empty looking house, we bought a large yucca plant and a "six pack" of mini cacti plants which we placed in little green pots and arranged around the house - the injection of greenery and plant life were to give the property an additional "zest" and help it to sell.  The property sold very quickly, but whether that was to do with the plants or not we'll never now.

However, with not having a lot of window space for plants, we were then left with the problem in our new house of what to do with 6 cacti plants, so I grouped them together in a shallow terracotta bowl containing some soil mixed with lots of gravel for drainage.  As it was summer, I placed the pot in the sunny and sheltered area outside the back door.  However, when winter came, I left the pot outside and that's where it stayed.  Some of the cacti thrived and some died.  I filled the gaps with other little plants which had been given to me as part of other arrangements, so didn't really know what they were but they did turn out to be either alpines or succulents. 

I also added some pebbles to the pot and a piece of broken terracotta from an old pot which I had previously painted in a speckled blue, to add extra interest.

Alpines are plants that originate from an alpine climate so they are used to growing above the tree line and are tough little things, being able to withstand extremes of cold and sun exposure.  However, because they grow in rocky terrain, they don't like getting their roots waterlogged.  That is why they work so well with succulent plants, which also thrive in harsh, dry climates and survive by storing water in their leaves.

Many people grow these plants as rockery plants but they look particularly good arranged in shallow pots, old sinks, troughs or other recycled containers. The key is to keep their roots reasonably dry, so a shallow and well drained gravelly soil is best.

Visiting RHS Wisley recently, I noticed they were growing them in wooden troughs, like window boxes.  But they also had some in the alpine house, growing quite happily between some rocks.  


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