The Huge Allure of Tiny Alpines | gardening tips
gslate trends can come and go. Yet there are once-ubiquitous styles of old-school horticulture that have been hopelessly out of fashion for so long that even a middle-aged person like me has only really seen them in the yellowed pages of dusty textbooks. Something so iconic of their time – the outdoor equivalent of crocheted doilies – that it’s almost impossible to imagine them reinvented to be relevant and practical. So when something really great happens that knocks you out of your preconceptions, you have to be grateful. This is where I have to take back everything I said about the alpines.
I used to very unfairly think of this huge and incredibly diverse group of plants from the mountaintops of the world as tiny and difficult. The kind of thing that was largely invisible amidst the huge mounds of gravel and boulders you’d see in the soulless suburbs of the 70s. Most of them had been long abandoned in the 90s when I was a child, but even the most pristine examples I had seen in botanical gardens still had an imbalance of plants and difficult landscaping. Vast high-ceilinged greenhouses with huge concrete beds, where you had to play a kind of botanical “Where is Wally” to spot the precious traces of greenery.
In my defense, it seems that I was not the only one to feel this. For years the genre that once inspired cult devotion has waned in popularity, with this year’s Chelsea Flower Show featuring just one grower when once there would have been half a dozen. Thank goodness for that one! Right next to one of the entrances to the main marquee, I was stopped in my tracks by the Scots Kevock Garden Plants, which utterly blew me away with their level of forensic detail, expertly reproducing the sides of rugged alpine mountains in miniature. In a space not much larger than my bedroom, they had created a whole other world, populated by naturalistic communities of weird and wonderful plants. Standing absorbed in front for a few hours of filming, I felt like I too had been miraculously shrunk and dropped into an imaginary land.
In the same way that the terrariums I’m obsessed with have suddenly seen a resurgence for their ability to encapsulate the feeling of vast, exotic landscapes on a tiny scale suitable for those with only small indoor spaces, I’ve come to realize that alpines are ideal for creating your own miniature worlds outdoors. One of those times when you blame yourself for not coming to such an obvious realization years earlier.
Even if all you have is a single large dish or tray on a balcony, with these plants you can lose yourself for hours in a paradise of your own creation, with species from all over the world. Aside from their insistence on full sun and a fast-draining substrate, most are easy to care for. The huge greenhouses they are often set up in are meant to protect them from winter, but if you place your pot in the rain shade of a building or move it under cover in winter, you won’t won’t have to worry about it. .
With a new generation of aquarium stores selling a range of finely detailed small rocks that look like miniature boulders and twisted hardwood twigs that look like jungle branches, there are now many more hardscape options. to effectively deceive the convincing scale. The possibilities here for people who aspire to have expansive gardens but live in small spaces are endless. I’m very excited to explore. Thanks to everyone at Kevock, for sparking my latest adventure.
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