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Alpine Garden

 

 

In the true Alpine garden will be found only such plants as are indigenous to the Alps. For variety, it is endless - evergreen shrubs, exquisite miniatures of lowland kinds, brilliant Mosses, Lilies, dwarf trailing plants, Orchids and Ferns, to mention but a few of the types of Alpine plant life which are perfectly at home in our gardens.

 

The Alpine garden should be situated on the highest ground available, in fact the more exposed the site the better. The summit of a rocky knoll, or the sides of an earth ridge will generally ensure abundant sunshine for the plants.

 

Quite a large garden may be laid out with the aid of a few cart loads of rough boulders, but small stones should be mixed with the soil in order to secure free drainage and retain moisture.

 

A common cause of failure in the cultivation of Alpines, is the unsuitable soil to the varieties chosen. Few classes of plants are more exacting in this respect. It is true that certain kinds will accommodate themselves to varying conditions, and make a brave show even under adverse circumstances.

 

The geological formation of the Alps includes certain well defined classes of soil, with a flora peculiar to each. On limestone soils the beautiful Pasque-flower (Anemone Pulsatilla) is invariably content, its violet flowers scattered over the grassy hill­sides in early spring, on ordinary garden loam it frequently fails altogether. Rhododendron Chamaecistus, though strictly speaking a native of the Tyrol , is another chalk loving plant, whereas R.ferrugineum prefers a granite soil. Among the large family of Alpine Gentians, such varieties as Angustifolia and Clusii are always best on limestone, whilst on the granite soil their place is taken by Pyrenaica and Kochiana.Alpine Garden

 

Except in very large gardens it is really unnecessary to provide special soil, that is supposing that a garden picture and not a botanical collection is the object in view. There are sufficient plants peculiar either to the granitic or calcareous formation for us to make a garden of either. The gardener who grows plants for their beauty and not for their rarity realises that he can do better by keeping to varieties that suit his soil, than by adapting the soil to accommodate unwilling aliens.

 

In a garden of any size an endeavor should certainly be made to provide an ideal home by means of grassy banks or an approach of fine turf for some of the beautiful flowers of the Alpine meadows. Naturalised in this way they will appear to greater advantage and flower more profusely than in the bare earth spaces among the rocks.

 

In close grass Anemone Pulsatilla is at its best, and in the same place the lovely Alpine Primula (P.auricula), quite distinct from the florist's varieties, may find a home. The Glacier Pink (D.neglectus), with its tufts of grass-like foliage and clusters of rosy flowers, is another good plant for naturalising.

 

From the pasture lands of the Austrian Alps comes a charming Harebell, (C.pulla), a true gem for the grass. Among the Gentians is the May flowering kind (Alpina) and the larger Willow Gentian (G.asclepiadea), the latter, how­ever, more suited to positions among coarse grass than in the section devoted to the smallest plants. The Vernal Gentian (G.verna) prefers limestone, and is happy when exposed to the fullest sunshine, in a cool, moist soil.

 

Where the rocks meet the grass a few patches of the Alpine Heath (Erica carnea) will mark a change in the planting and in early spring the rosy flowers are particularly welcome. Ranunculus aconitifolius, of which our Fair Maids of France is the double form, is one of the best Alpines for naturalising, and is especially free flowering.

 

S.burseriana is one of the most precious plants in the whole of the Alpine garden. As early as January the silver foliage is flecked with brown buds, each carried on a small red stalk. It does best in a well ­drained chalky soil, and soon spreads among the stones. S.aretioides is so diminutive that special care must be taken to prevent other plants from overgrowing it, the golden blossoms appear in April above the silver leaf cushions. A moist sandy soil suits it, and propagation is effected by seeds or division.

 

Other good Alpine Saxifrages suitable for various positions are Moschata, Bryoides and Squarrosa.

 

In the arrangement of garden pictures, flower masses must be relieved by the introduction of foliage plants. Fortunately the Alps are by no means lacking in suitable flora for this purpose. Many ferns and small native shrubs are available.

 

The cool, deep green of the Spleenwort Ferns affords a happy contrast to the rich blues and dead whites of Gentian and Saxifrage. Two good kinds are Asplenium Germanicum and A.selosii. The Shield Ferns (Aspidium), which include also the Polystichum, many of them perfectly hardy, requiring abundant water during the hot weather. Montanum is a true Swiss variety.

 

Between low masses of rock, small clumps of Woodsia look beautiful, especially when the stones are mantled with Sedums and vivid mosses. A slightly peaty soil suits them best, and they require plenty of water. W.hyperborea and W.ilvensis are especially suitable.

 

In shady corners where the drainage is perfect the Bladder Ferns (Cystopteris) soon make themselves at home. C.alpina, one of the smallest, is also one of the best. Lomaria Spicant and the hardy Cheilanthes are other precious ferns for the garden of Alpines.alpine garden

 

Though none will deny the beauty and diversity of the plant families which make the Swiss pastures and lower Alps veritable gardens of Nature, yet the true charm of Alpine flowers is only felt when we ascend to the region of ice and snow. Here at last we realise the powerful grace that lies in herbs. Who is not moved when amidst the savagery of Nature, the chaos of rock and dreary waste of snow, a tiny plant springs forth and bravely fights for life.

 

The smaller varieties of Androsace and Saxifrage, which thrive in the grit filled clefts beside mountain glaciers, often fail altogether in garden soil. It is ridiculous to speak of such plants as "delicate" Alpines, or to infer that our climate is unsuited to their needs.

 

As a matter of fact, the soil in most Alpine gardens is far too rich, and these plants from the highest regions die from over-nutrition. The earth chinks should be filled with the poorest gravel soil, and with full exposure to sun and free drainage the majority will do well.

 

In town gardens Androsaces are difficult to grow, as their small green leaves soon become coated with soot and dust. They are diminutive plants of the Primrose order, and in their native Alps flower directly the snow has melted. Small fissures in the upper part of the Alpine garden should be prepared for their reception, a mixture of gritty loam and sand, with a small proportion of peat, being packed into the crevices.

 

The plants will never thrive on shallow ledges, the roots should strike downwards for at least a foot. During summer drought the small fibres will wrap themselves around stones and rock fragments, finding abundant moisture in the cool depths.

 

In the granite regions of the higher Alps the following Androsaces are found:

 

A.glacialis, A.carnea, and A.vitaliana, the two former rosy, the latter yellow.

 

Chalk loving kinds are:

 

A.chamaejasme, pink; A.helvetica, white; A.pubescens, white with yellow eye; and A.villosa, pink.

 

A group of dwarf Campanulas, comprising C.allioni, Cenisia and Excisa, will swell the list of miniature plants. C.allioni forms a close network of succulent roots, the stemless blue flowers being raised on small rosettes of leaves. It is found on granite soil. C.cenisia (Mont Cenis Harebell) is another free rooting kind, with blue flowers and bright leaf rosettes. These Campanulas do well on perpendicular rock faces, clothing the joints with exquisite flower and leaf clusters.

 

A tiny Saxifrage, S.caesia, almost like a silvery moss, is another native of the high Alps . It requires a sandy soil, and must not be allowed to suffer from dryness during the summer. The Cobweb Houseleeks (Sempervivum) demand full exposure to sun. In flat spaces among the small Alpines their quaint silver leaf rosettes and pink flowers are very distinct. To combine with these there are many other families of plants, the Primulas and Gentians, Artemisia and Achillea.

 

 

 

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