“Alpine plants are plants that grow in the alpine climate, which occurs at high elevation and above the tree line. Alpine plants grow together as a plant community in alpine tundra. Alpine plants are not a single taxon. Rather, many different plant species …” (c/o Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
According to John E. Good & David Millward, authors of “Alpine Plants”, Ecology for Gardens “…species that live in these extreme conditions do so as the result of a long evolved ability to survive in places too hostile for less adapted species…in areas covering less than 3% of the world’s land surface…offering approximate 6% of the world’s flowering plants (c. 12,000 species, in 2000 genera and 100 families)
Having one of the longest undisturbed winters and short hot summers plays right into an alpine plant’s needs. Considering that we are ideally suited (weather wise), many species within this great diverse family should prove quite worthy and rewarding.
The only other issue would be location. Judging from the numerous yards and gardens that were visited over the years, one is only limited by one’s imagination. May I therefore offer several successful examples.
1. Crevice Gardens: Showed up in 1990’s. This style originated by Czech growers attempting to exact growing environments of high alpine zones. A type of garden where slabs of slim rock are set on their sides, each approximately an inch apart, running in rows, the same direction. Final area is limited by the length of your arm, if it can reach comfortably to the center. These slabs are held up with humsy soil, placed between, that is well draining. Always remember that soil settles and that the final surface drop should be less than an inch. The idea here was to mimic layers of rock, up ended by glaciers, as in the wild, where soil eventually collected between the layers.
2. Dry Sand & Desert Gardens: The sand bed is a model of simplicity. It is composed entirely of sand placed on top of ordinary garden soil and gorgeous alpines are set into it. It is imperative that all long rooted invaders, such as quack grass and thistles be evicted permanently first. (Opt: A layer of commercial fabric can be laid down to prevent further unwanted guests from taking hold.) It is very important to establish a row of rock or blocks of your choice to prevent any sand from escaping around the outer most edges. Once in place, clean (round particle) beach sand can be laid down to a depth of 6 or even 10 inches. The fun now begins, as you integrate some choice larger and/or smaller rocks and drift wood for a decorative and pleasing effect. Small, slow growing alpine trees would give it a finished “desert” touch. Finally bring on suitable (for sand) alpine plants, remembering that “less” is certainly “more”!
3. Formal Raised Beds & Wall Gardens: Nothing is more pleasing to the eye than alpines in bloom, flowing down a rock garden wall, appearing to have escaped out from between its layers! In the wild, some plants seem to grow directly from solid rock, forming huge “buns” on vertical cliff faces. A rock wall is a solid barrier, backed with soil, supporting a collection of different alpine types. It is important to anchor the wall solidly to the ground, as our climate makes no bones of heaving the entire creation come spring. If one prefers to use man made blocks for the main wall, try at least to finish with natural rocks on the final layer, giving it the appearance of being there all of its life. Alpines love the drainage this feature offers. A great idea if one has limited space and some degree of back problems!