Tortworth Plants’ Favourite Alpines for the Summer Season
Rebecca Flint and Tim Hancock from Tortworth Plants with their selection of summer-flowering alpines. - 23 June 2017
We grow a wide range of alpines and herbaceous perennials, with up to 1000 varieties throughout the year. Spring is the time when the alpines take centre stage, but the flowering period can be extended to give interest throughout the summer months, and into autumn, with some of the varieties below, which we will be bringing to the Rare Plant Fair at The Walled Gardens at Cannington.
Alpines are often considered to be old-fashioned or difficult to grow, but this is really not the case. They are surprisingly versatile, and there are varieties suitable for a range of situations, including rockeries, pots or troughs, fronts of borders, walls, and even between paving stones. Being naturally dwarf, they are ideal for small spaces, and many varieties are low-maintenance and happy in dry conditions or poor soil. If you do have a heavier soil, or are planting up a container or trough, it is always best to incorporate extra grit or sharp sand into the soil or compost, to improve the drainage.
Saponaria ‘Bressingham’ has large, bright pink flowers in summer, over evergreen mats of small, dense, deep green leaves. It has a ground-covering or trailing habit, so is especially well suited to planting on the edge of a wall or trough, although it would be equally happy at the front of a border in a sunny spot, with free-draining soil.
Another good choice for summer colour would be the alpine Erigeron. Two of our favourites are Erigeron karvinskianus and Erigeron glaucus ‘Sea Breeze’, both of which flower for a long period over the summer months. They are best in full sun, with well-drained soil, and can also cope well with coastal conditions. E. karvinskianus is particularly suited to growing in cracks in walls, steps or paving, where it will happily self-seed and naturalise, softening hard edges, and displaying a mass of delicate pink and white daisies.
E. glaucus ‘Sea Breeze’ has larger, bright pink flowers with yellow eyes, broader, evergreen leaves, and a more mound-forming habit.
For a nice splash of lilac-blue, try Chaenorhinum origanifolium ‘Blue Dream’, which produces many small, snapdragon-like flowers throughout summer. This variety forms loose mounds, up to 15cm (6”) tall, and can self-seed, making it ideal for cracks in walls or paving, but it will do equally well in the front of a border. (Editor's note - it has a good scent as well!)
Scutellaria suffrutescens ‘Texas Rose’ has a neat rounded habit, producing many small, magenta-pink, snapdragon-like flowers in summer, on wiry, erect stems, up to 15-20cm (6-8”) tall. Ideal for troughs, or smaller spaces, this variety requires very good drainage, and full sun. It will also cope well in shallower soil, providing it is not too wet.
If you are looking for something a little more unusual, a good choice would be Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’. In summer, arching stems of rounded, pale green, scented leaves are tipped with large, striking bracts, which emerge apple green and mature to rich pink. These are long-lasting and surround tiny lilac flowers, which are popular with bees. This is an excellent variety for a sunny spot in the top of a wall, a rockery, or a pot, reaching approximately 20cm (8”) in height, but good drainage is essential for it to thrive.
Parahebe ‘Snow Clouds’ has a slightly larger stature than some alpines, but will perform well in sun or part shade, on a larger rockery or in the front of a border. It will reach approximately 15-20cm (6-8”) in height, and has glossy, dark green, evergreen foliage. Flowering in late spring and early summer, it produces loose spikes of white flowers, with delicate pink eyes.
Another more vigorous variety, for a large rockery or a border is Zauschneria californica ‘Dublin’, which is excellent for extending the flowering season through summer and into autumn. Known as Californian Fuchsia, it produces unusual, bright orange, trumpet flowers over a long period, on stems up to 25cm (10”) tall. It is fully hardy, given good drainage and a sunny position.
We grow a range of creeping Thyme varieties, which are always popular. They are quite versatile, and will grow well in a range of positions, as long as they have plenty of sun, and good drainage. They are also happy with very little soil, so perform well in walls or cracks in paving, as well as at the front of a border or in containers. Producing dense mats of tiny evergreen leaves, they hug the ground, and are topped with clusters of miniature flowers in shades of pink, lilac or white in summer, which are particularly attractive to bees. Some of our favourites are Thymus ‘Bressingham’, with pretty pink flowers;
Thymus serpyllum var. albus, which is pure white;
and Thymus ‘Hartington Silver’, which has pale pink flowers and attractive variegated foliage.
Pratia pedunculata will grow in a similar way to the creeping Thymes, but is better in a slightly shadier environment, as it will not cope well with hot, baking sun, or very dry soil. It has masses of pretty, pale blue, starry flowers throughout summer, over dense, evergreen mats of foliage.
Oxalis magellanica ‘Nelson’ differs from many alpines, as it is suited to a cool, shady spot, with moist soil. With a low, creeping habit, it makes good ground cover, and has small clover-like, deep green leaves. The mats of foliage are scattered with pretty white pom-pom flowers in late spring and into summer, which add a touch of light to a dark corner.
We hope that this has helped to show that alpines are not just for spring colour, and given some inspiration as to how you can extend your enjoyment of these plants throughout the summer, in a range of situations.
Tortworth Plants, based near Wootton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire, is owned and run by Tim Hancock and Rebecca Flint. They are keen plantspeople, with a passion for horticulture. The nursery produces a range of more unusual alpines and herbaceous perennials, while still stocking a good selection of classic favourite garden plants.