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I want a carpet of alpines - how realistic?

(16 Posts)
dolkapots Sat 12-Mar-16 22:04:45

I have a border approx 3ftx12ft which is clay soil that I am currently trying to sort out. Bought sharp sand today and will work that and some organic matter in.

I've been looking at alpine gardens on Pinterest that talk of "carpets" of differing types of alpine plants in one season. How realistic is that for UK? How many plants would I need to plant to get the carpet?

pinkskyinthecity Sun 13-Mar-16 16:10:34

Having just bought a load of succulents yesterday, I am all succulent-minded (they belong to the same group as alpines). Normally they live in harsh rocky conditions that are used to being battered about by the extremities. As your soil is clay, they wouldn't really thrive as they prefer it to be v. well-drained so you'll have to incorporate an awful lot of grit and sand. If you like alpines so much, may I suggest building a rockery for them especially, or on a smaller scale, plant up a few pots. Some alpines can be prolific but it'll still take some years to cover the ground that you want. My parents' back garden was half-gravelled, and over the years, some kind of sedum with bright yellow flowers have really took to it! If you're ever around in Leics. then pop by, and help yourself!

shovetheholly Mon 14-Mar-16 08:13:20

Hmmmm, this is a tough one! The thing is, received wisdom says you're not supposed to grow alpines in huge mats - they are 'supposed' to be small, delicate, beautiful clumps that are deliberately controlled on fertile soil via the addition of a LOT of sand and grit (and I really mean a LOT).

However, I think there's a time and a place for received wisdom, and there's a time and a place for just doing what you want to do! grin Given a bit more of a chance on fertile soil, a lot of alpines will grow large and mat up. It's not at all the same effect, and it might not be 'correct', but if you like it, I don't see why you shouldn't give it a go! (I should also add that we all see alpines in front gardens all the time growing like this- saxifrage is a prime example, alpine campanulas another). In my own garden, I unapologetically grow primula denticulata to the size of a small cabbage. Because I like it like that and I do not care a hoot that it is 'wrong'. grin

The only thing I would say is that, design wise, a bed entirely filled with these very low-growing things might look a bit strange. Alpine gardeners often use things like heather or conifers to add height. (However, if you have a kind of modernist architecty house, it could also look awesome).

dolkapots Mon 14-Mar-16 15:16:22

Thanks for the replies.

shove I'm grin at the thought of my house being modernist/architecty.

Should have added I have four permanent shrubs in the bed; oleander (which has yet to flower) pieris, red cordyline and a skimmia all approx the same height.

I do want fairly rapid ground cover to minimise weeds so plan B is to plant a mixture of alpines and then when they are established add in oregano, sage and thyme as they are apparently fast growing. Thoughts?

guerre Mon 14-Mar-16 15:22:17

There are some creeping varieties which are nice- Corsican... Sonething- mint or thyme.
I love dianthus which look fab in large numbers, and thrift, both if which are alpiney (miniature dianthus). Also aubretias, campanulas, lobelias form huge mats in borders.

shovetheholly Mon 14-Mar-16 15:58:01

There are loads and loads of lovely groundcover plants that you can shove straight in on your clay without all the faff of alpines, so my advice in terms of sheer laziness would be to choose something you really like that suits your conditions and let it romp away. If you bulk-buy, you'll get clumps much more quickly - getting 3 or 5 of something rather than just one really helps.

My new discovers in the area of groundcover are Pachysandra terminalis variegata and mazus reptans (I think some people are going to shoot me for mentioning the latter yet again, but I luffs it). But there are literally dozens of things to choose from. What aspect are you - is the garden sunny or shady?

funnyperson Mon 14-Mar-16 17:32:34

Pieris thrives in acid soil. Thus choose your alpines wisely.

dolkapots Tue 15-Mar-16 12:39:50

funny the pierus is not what you would say is thriving, existing is more appropriate I think so I would assume my soil is not acidic. I do top it up with ericaceous soil mix and feed but it does not seem to have grown in the last year.

I have 6 alpines now potted up in empty ice cream containers until i decide what to do grin The more I think about it the more I am not sure. Shove I will take a look at your suggestions thanks.

shovetheholly Tue 15-Mar-16 12:46:21

If you do go for other plants, you can still use the alpines in a lovely alpine trough (where they will be perfect and tiny, unlike my cabbagey primulas!)

You can buy cheap pH testing kits at the garden centre. It's well worth doing as the results can sometimes be a bit surprising and it's also fun pretending to be a scientist for two minutes. Sounds to me, though, like your soil might be neutral. I've found that it's very hard to create a pocket of more acid soil in a wider patch- the pH always seems to be rising. I now put ericaceous things in pots (my clay is neutral pH).

dolkapots Tue 15-Mar-16 14:06:11

shove I eh, already did a bit of inconclusive amateur testing by making a pool of water and then pouring in some bicarb blush Nothing happened so perhaps the soil is neutral. I don't really even like pierus so am happy to leave it as it is. I have kept my rhodendrons/azaleas in separate pots though. My oleander looks happy enough but did not flower last year.

shovetheholly Wed 16-Mar-16 10:09:43

"I don't really even like pierus"

Hahahahaha! Me neither- and yet I too have one in my garden!! Time for it to go, I think!

RomiiRoo Wed 16-Mar-16 10:14:54

Interesting, thank you. I am in the process of digging up garden (clay) and will have large bed of similar size, among others. I was thinking heathers for ground cover, but not sure.
One of my neighbours did alpines with a bit of a terrace, same soil. They did not really thrive.

dolkapots Wed 16-Mar-16 11:03:20

Romii I will be very annoyed if they don't thrive which is why I'm having doubts.

In a clearance sale a few months back I bought (what I now know is) aubrietta and planted in very heavy compost and it is doing really well. My new bed is mostly sandy and dry so I am thinking that maybe I would need to add some compost just to give it a bit of life?

I'm blaming all of this on Pinterest. I always see really nice pictures/ideas, spend way too much time fantasizing thinking it through, money etc and then mine looks crap.

RomiiRoo Wed 16-Mar-16 17:22:14

Oh no, don't take my word on it to heart. I am still finding my way around what works and what doesn't.

funnyperson Sun 20-Mar-16 07:08:10

Oh yes dig up the Pieris and put it in a pot with ericaceous compost otherwise it will only continue to irritate you and be unhappy.

I love the creeping plants that tumble over people's front garden walls: aubretia, saxifrages, a creeping type of persicaria, thrifts.....I'm often tempted just to take a little bit to propagate but never do, even though I've asked and been given permission. Perhaps this year...

dolkapots Tue 22-Mar-16 15:36:57

Well I've gone for it, planted about 10 alpines of differing heights/textures so hopefully in a few months I will have some lovely pictures to show here smile

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