Alpine Garden Design Ideas

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An alpine garden is a landscape design that depicts a natural setting where rocks, gravel and silt are deposited at the bottom of a rocky hillside. These alpine gardens can be found at the base of a sunny slope. Plants are placed around boulders and inside crevices. These gardens can have either a wet or dry environment.

Design Tips For An Alpine Garden

Before you begin building your alpine garden, spend some time putting together a plan. A plan will help you set a budget for your project, organize the materials you will need and determine if the alpine garden project will fit in the space available. Here are a few tips to help you create an alpine garden design that will be an attractive addition to your yard:

  • Select an area and mark off the boundaries. Choose an area that has good drainage and receives at least partial sun light during the day. If the area does not drain well, add layers of gravel and sand to create drainage.
  • Place rocks so that the alpine garden layout will have a natural appearance. Rocks should be placed randomly, not in rows. For arrangement ideas, visit a river or mountain and take pictures of interesting rock formations.

  • Set larger rocks in place first. Then, stand back and look at your handiwork. When the large rocks are in the right place, add smaller rocks and gravel to create rises, hollows and planting pockets.
  • Choose plants that will thrive in the alpine garden environment. In shaded areas, use plants that require little sunlight such as dianthus or St. John’s Wort. In wet areas, select plants similar to Forget-me-nots. In full sun, plant iris and other plants that can tolerate the heat.
  • Add pots and decorative containers to create interesting and unique displays in the alpine garden.

Choosing Rocks For The Alpine Garden

The base of the alpine garden is the rock around which the alpine plants can grow. The most popular rocks used in an alpine garden are limestone and sandstone. But, the type of rock used will depend on the landscape plan and the type of rock available in the area. If possible, consider using local stone because of the increased availability and decreased transportation costs. Another option for rocks includes hypertufa which is a light porous rock. Holes can be drilled in hypertufa and plants grown in these holes.

When choosing rock, consider the following:

  • The cost of transporting the rock from the quarry or gardening center to your home.
  • Where the rock will be dumped in the yard when it is delivered. Will you need any extra tools or equipment to move the rock from the dump site to the alpine garden?
  • Large boulders and rock will need to settle for at least a season before putting any plants in the alpine garden.

Easy To Grow Alpine Plants

There are several types of alpine plants that are relatively easy to grow and will grow in different conditions. Some alpine plants are particularly suited for shade, some prefer wet and marshy conditions, while other grow well in crevices. Before purchasing any plants for an alpine garden, first determine if the plant is appropriate for the soil and climate conditions.

Here are a few tips to consider when selecting plants:

  • Stick to a color scheme. Do not mix a variety of different colored flowering plants. This can cause some unwanted contrasting colors.
  • Choose blooming plants with a spreading growth habit for mass planting.
  • Select a few specimen plants to scatter around the alpine garden. Specimen plants are planted alone so that their beauty can be enjoyed without distractions from surrounding plants.

Here are some popular alpine plants to use in different planting arrangements:

  • In areas where you want plants to fall over boulders or to border pathways, plant dianthus and thyme.
  • Use sempervivums (such as Hen and Chicks) as groundcovers to spread over flat areas.
  • Sedums are hardy plants that add a pop of color against rock formations.
  • Iris, phlox and geraniums perform well in sunny areas and add bright colors to the garden.
  • Plant bulbs along with thyme, sedums and saxifrages. When the bulb foliage and flowers fade, the area will still be carpeted with low growing plants.
  • Use ferns in shaded areas. Ferns also enjoy a slightly wet environment.
  • Use shrubs and dwarf trees to add height. Azaleas and rhododendrons add color and are easy to maintain. Scotch pine grows to 4 feet and has blue-green needles. The dwarf varieties of Japanese cypress add a light and feathery texture to the garden.
  • Large, evergreen trees can be used as a background to the alpine garden.

An alpine garden is an impressive feature in any yard. Design your alpine garden so that you can enjoy its beauty and make it visible from different areas of the yard, from the street and from different rooms in the home. If you have an area that needs to be transformed, consider an alpine garden.

Last Updated: July 22, 2012
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About Coletta Teske Coletta Teske has 25 years' experience in tech journalism, as well as home and gardening topics. She has freelanced for Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, published more than two dozen computer books for Prima Publishing and Macmillan, and worked as a freelance correspondent for West Hawaii Today. Coletta has been an avid gardener since she was 2 years old. While living in Hawaii, she achieved a lifelong dream of becoming a certified master gardener.

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