Updated/Fact-Chacked on June 28, 2023 by Gareth James
Picture the majestic Swiss Alps and the rugged Balkan mountains. Here, amidst the splendour and chill, nestle the vibrant alpine plants, defying harsh conditions to thrive. Mirroring this resilience, these hardy botanical wonders can flourish in UK gardens too, bringing a taste of mountainous majesty to your backyard – provided they stay cozy, not soaked.
Traditionally starring in rockeries, alpines revel in their own dedicated space, a stage where they can truly shine. This separation also serves a practical purpose, creating a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the garden. Ready to embrace the mountain spirit and nurture these radiant treasures at home? Read on.
What are alpine plants?
Alpines are perennial plants that grow close to the ground and often produce bright flowers. They like to grow in rocky conditions with good drainage, so will thrive in a rockery setting with very little soil.
Alpines are low maintenance once planted in the correct conditions and perfect for patio areas. They will last for years if maintained well and produce flowers year after year.
Are alpines outdoor succulents?
The short answer is no, but some alpines look like succulents. Alpine plants include any species native to mountain regions and may include grasses, mosses, lichen or cushion plants like creeping thyme.
Types of alpines
There are many genera of alpines with hundreds of varieties. Here are some of our favourites that are readily available to buy in the UK.
Armeria is a common alpine plant that can be grown in the UK. These can be found growing on mountains, hillsides and other exposed areas. Armeria is easy to grow as an alpine plant; it can be grown from seed or cuttings.
They also make good ground cover as they don’t grow too tall and can be left alone for a long time. However, when grown in pots, they can take a while to grow and bloom.
These plants can grow to be between 6 to 12 inches in height. They have long-stemmed leaves which grow up to 2.5 inches in length. The flowers are usually blue but can also be pink or white. The blooms appear from May to August.
Armeria is an excellent choice for the garden; they will thrive in full sun but can also be grown in part shade. Then you can enjoy the long flowering period of these plants.
Alpine Bellflower (Campanula alpestris)
Alpine Bellflower is one of the best plants that can be grown in the UK. It makes a very good addition to any garden as its long flowering period makes it a great plant for the summer.
These plants are easy to grow, and you can easily find them growing in your local garden centre. This is one of the easiest Alpine plants to grow as they don’t require any care.
The plants grow to be around 6 inches in height. The leaves are usually around 2 inches in length. The flowers of this plant are usually blue but can also be pink or white.
Overall, these plants are a good choice for the garden, as they can be left alone for a long time and will thrive in full sun. I much prefer these over the low-growing campanula varieties.
Alpine Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis alpestris)
Alpine Forget-Me-Not is another alpine that you can grow in the UK. They are taller than our native forget-me-nots, which appear in spring.
The main thing you should be aware of when growing these plants is that they require a lot of moisture. They are very delicate and will need to be watered regularly.
These plants are easy to grow and can be grown from seed or cuttings. They also make a great addition to any rock garden.
They have a very long flowering period, as they will start to bloom in June and continue until August. The flowers are usually blue but can also be pink or white.
These plants prefer full sun but can also be grown in partial shade. They grow to be around 6 inches in height.
Dianthus are often referred to as ‘pinks’ in garden centres in the UK and very popular.
Originating from the European Alps, these hardy perennials are particularly well-suited to the UK’s temperate climate. They enjoy well-draining, slightly alkaline soils and thrive in full sun or lightly shaded spots.
A crucial aspect of their care is ensuring they’re not waterlogged, as this can lead to root rot. After meeting these conditions, Alpine Pink will reward you with a stunning display of delicate pink flowers from late spring to early summer, offering an evocative echo of its Alpine heritage right in your garden.
Dianthus flowers have a really good fragrance and are also edible, with a spicy floral flavour.
When grown from seed, they need around eight weeks to germinate. They can grow to be around 5 inches in height. The leaves are usually around 3 inches in length.
Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasque Flower)
I discovered Pasque Flowers in a neighbours rockery this year and fell in love with them, though I did have to pull out Google Lens to identify them.
These plants are very easy to grow and don’t require any care. They can be left alone for a long time as they don’t grow too tall. However, if grown in pots, you may need to be more careful when watering them.
You should try to keep the soil moist around the roots of this plant. Overall, these plants are a great choice for the garden, as they are a little bit easier to grow than many other Alpine plants.
Alpine Daisy (Bellis perennis)
Alpine Daisy is yet another choice for the child’s garden, and it’s an excellent choice for the summer months. These plants have a very long flowering period and will bloom from early spring to late summer, and then they will begin again in the following spring.
The flowers of this plant are usually red, white or pink. It is an ideal choice for the garden, as it is very easy to grow and doesn’t require any care. They prefer full sun but can also be grown in part shade.
You should be aware that these plants are very sensitive to drought, so you need to make sure that you water them regularly. They grow to be around 6 inches in height.
Lewisia longipetala (Little Plum)
Lewisia is a beautiful Alpine plant that is great for the spring and summer months. This is another plant that can be grown from seed or cuttings. It is a great choice for a child’s garden, as it has a very long flowering period and it will bloom from April to July.
Previously this was a very popular alpine plant in England, but sadly it was lost to cultivation. The plant is also known as the “long petal” plant because it has very long sepals.
If you are lucky enough to find this plant growing wild you will need to use gloves to pick the flowers, as they can cause skin irritation. Always make sure that you wash your hands before picking the flowers.
The plant prefers full sun but can also be grown in part shade. They grow to be around 6 inches in height. This plant has an interesting way of releasing its seeds into the wind, which means that you may get quite a few plants from one seed.
Erodiums, known colloquially as ‘Mountain Geraniums’, are hardy plants that can bring a vibrant pop of colour to UK gardens.
Indigenous to the mountainous regions of Europe, these robust plants are well-adapted to thrive in UK’s temperate climate.
They prefer well-draining soil and full sun to partial shade, making them versatile for various garden settings. It’s essential to ensure these plants are not overwatered, as they are accustomed to the drier conditions of their mountain habitats.
Erodiums offer an enticing display of delicate, feather-like foliage and a profusion of blooms, typically in shades of pink or white, from spring through summer. With the right care, these resilient mountain beauties can create a captivating spectacle in your garden, reminiscent of their high-altitude origins.
Saxifrage, a quintessential alpine plant, can flourish in a UK rockery or alpine container setting, conjuring images of rugged mountain landscapes.
Appreciated for their tufted mounds of vibrant foliage and delicate, star-shaped blooms, saxifrages prefer the cooler climate of the UK. They are perfectly suited to rockeries or alpine containers where good drainage is guaranteed, mimicking their native rocky habitats.
Ensure they receive plenty of sunlight, although a bit of afternoon shade can protect them from excessive heat. While they can withstand drought once established, it’s vital not to overwater saxifrages as they are susceptible to root rot. Adhering to these conditions, your Saxifrage will create a dazzling display from spring to early summer, offering a slice of alpine splendour right in your garden.
How to plant alpines in pots and containers
Alpines look great in old vintage pots and upcycled basins and sinks; even old tins will work as long as you make some drainage holes in the bottom. Stone troughs are most often used to mimic their natural habitat.
Alpines can be grown in pots, but you need to create extremely well-drained soil – ensure over 50%+ of the mixture is gravel. I used 40% compost and 60% horticultural grit in my planter with some well-rotted compost for good measure. Ensure your pot has good drainage holes; pot feet also stop drainage holes from getting blocked.
Once planted, add another layer of grit or decorative stones on top, this stops the alpine leaves from coming into contact with any damp compost after rainfall for morning dew.
Try adding some contrasting slate, like in the image above, to create striations that are pleasing to the eye.
How to plant alpines in a rockery
The idea is to create a separate space away from your other plants to resemble a rocky, mountainous area like their natural habitat. The space should be dedicated to only alpines so you can show off all the different varieties, shapes and colours. They are also called ‘crevice gardens‘, where small alpines are planted between rocks and grow in very little soil.
Once you have built a rockery, buy all the alpines you want to plant and position them in the spaces (still in their pots). You want to create the best-looking, natural arrangement you can.
Once you have the perfect arrangement, dig your holes and plant the alpines accordingly. The roots only need to sit a few centimetres deep as you will add grit as a top layer. Once planted, water your alpines in.
Alpine plant maintenance
Alpines in their native habitat (high up in the mountains) thrive in dry, cold conditions and get some rainfall when snow begins to melt – this is what you want to try and mimic. You will only need to water your alpines if you get hot weather; once per week will be fine over the summer months.
When I planted my stone trough alpine garden (crevice garden) last July, we got a particularly hot spell of weather. Some of the younger plants just died off as they couldn’t cope with the heat. Aim to plant young alpines in spring and make sure you have no hot spells forecast.
Like most flowering plants, deadheading will give you more flowers and protect the flowers from rotting fallen petals.
To overwinter alpine plants, move any potted plants to the driest location in your garden. Next to a wall will give them some more protection.
How to propagate alpine plants
Some alpines will be clump-forming over time; divide them up if they are outgrowing your space.
Where to buy alpine plants
Most good garden centres will sell alpines, or you could try them online on websites like Crocus, Sarah Raven etc.
Ice Alpines to great ‘collections’ if you are starting out, like this x10 bee-friendly alpines for £20.
Other good suppliers are Jackson Nurseries online or at their location in Staffordshire.
Alpines can also be grown from seed for a much cheaper option. Seeds can be bought online.
Alpine plant FAQs
Do alpine plants last all year?
Yes, most alpines are perennials with leaf interest all year and flowers in summer.
How hardy are alpines?
Most alpine varieties are hardy but check with your local supplier before buying anything.
Do alpines need a lot of soil?
No, alpines prefer to sit in gravel and grow between rock crevices.
When should you plant alpines?
Alpines are best planted in spring when the roots can sit in warm soil.
Do alpines grow in the shade?
Some alpine varieties will thrive in the shade (Campanulam, Tellima and Vinca).
Can you plant alpines in gravel?
Yes, but ideally, mix 60/40 gravel and compost and top with more gravel once planted.
Will alpines grow in sandy soil?
Some varieties might dig in some gravel and compost.
Should you deadhead alpines?
Yes, flowering alpines are best deadheaded once the flowers start to wither. This will encourage more flowers to grow by stopping wasted energy from flowing to the dead flowers.
Are alpines perennial?
Most alpine varieties are perennial.
Can you grow alpines indoors?
It is not recommended; alpine plants thrive in cold regions with lots of sunshine.
Alpine Plant resources
Alpine Garden Society – this charity is dedicated to all things alpine.
John Green is a 46-year-old graphic designer living in Durham. John is RHS level 3 certified and owns an allotment in Durham.