Tiny treasures … try alpine gar­den­ing

Christchurch Mail - - OUT & ABOUT - SUZANNE PICK­FORD

Alpine plants are a marvel, with daz­zling dis­plays. Faced with treach­er­ously dif­fi­cult con­di­tions, they cover them­selves in berries or splurge on a flow­er­ing dis­play to ri­val a rose.

There’s no bet­ter way to grow these treasures than in a pot or trough dis­played on a table. They are happy here if you fol­low a few sim­ple guide­lines.

Some are fiendishly dif­fi­cult to keep alive in our hot, dry sum­mers and damp win­ters. They pro­vide chal­lenges and de­lights to the en­thu­si­as­tic grower, but luck­ily many can be grown in an open, very gritty mix in pots or troughs with lit­tle fuss.

They like a well-drained gritty mix – wet feet is the worst thing and or­di­nary pot­ting mix just won’t do. You need a very fine chip and pumice filled mix. This free drain­ing mix needs wa­ter­ing ev­ery day in summer. A drip­per or two in each pot and an au­to­matic wa­terer will make life eas­ier.

Pots need to be rel­a­tively deep with am­ple drainage holes. Shal­lower pots can ben­e­fit from rocks placed closely to­gether to ef­fec­tively in­crease the depth and mimic moun­tain con­di­tions. They look very beau­ti­ful too.

Fi­nally a good depth of very fine gravel (with­out dust) keeps the leaves from touch­ing the soil, stops liv­er­worts from grow­ing and keeps the plant cool.

When alpines are grown in a trough or in pots on a bench it is even eas­ier to no­tice things we might over­look tow­er­ing above the ground as we do! Mi­nus­cule leaves cling tightly to op­pressed stems that weave close to the ground. Oth­ers have a dense cov­er­ing of hair to trap pre­cious mois­ture and give the plant a furry sil­ver qual­ity. Some of our celmisias or na­tive alpine daisies have a gor­geous coat­ing of dense chest­nut brown to­men­tum a cute furry an­i­mal would be proud to sport.

These plants do like it cool in summer though, so move round the back of the house in dif­fuse light when it is hot. The ben­e­fit of pots is you can move to suit both them and you. Bring them to the pa­tio when they are in flower.

An as­sem­blage of var­i­ous sized and heights of troughs, some which can be lifted up on con­crete blocks to make a pleas­ing ar­range­ment, can pro­vide a gar­den that can be moved with you al­most as eas­ily as fur­ni­ture.

Mak­ing your own hy­per­t­ufa pots is fun and easy. Some kit sets are for sale at the Spring Flower Show, Septem­ber 16 and 17 at the Wool­ston Club and Har­good street. Tips on how to plant them up and a wide se­lec­tion of plants for ev­ery sit­u­a­tion are avail­able from the plant sellers at the show.

In­spi­ra­tion may also come from our gaudier over­seas alpine in­hab­i­tants. There is no doubt­ing the beauty and ap­peal of the snow­drops and other small bulbs, de­lights of early spring.

Sweep­ing plants dribbling over the edge add an­other di­men­sion. Be sure to select plants that have a sim­i­lar growth rate to co­habit a trough as an ex­u­ber­ant mem­ber may well take over and there­fore cause the demise of the oth­ers. Other­wise choose one massed plant­ing per pot. A tiny space can give so much plea­sure.

BARRY HAR­COURT

NZ’s un­qiue alpine plants, in­clud­ing the Mount Cook Lily, pro­vide great de­lights for gar­den­ers.

KIRK HARGREAVES

Alpine plants are ideal in pots or troughs so you can move them to suit the con­di­tions

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