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Alpine or rock garden plants, although low growing and small, are tough little characters. The first Rock garden was created by Sir Joseph Banks in the 1770's at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London. The plants are usually low growing and deep rooted through the scree and will often put up with harsh conditions, but will hate sitting in wet, especially through the winter months.
One of the first to flower, a popular show-stopper is Aubrietia. Named after the botanical artist of the seventeenth century, Claude Aubriet, they come from the eastern Mediterranean. Flowering from March ‘til June in paving and cascading down walls, they make a spectacular show. Remember to clip back after flowering to keep them neat, they can be divided or propagated from a heel cutting (a stem stripped off with a ‘heel') in the autumn.
The neat densely flowering mounds of mossy Saxifrage are also worth a try and look good in a planter or container. Originally getting its name from the Latin for ‘Rock-breaker’ from the belief that it was capable of breaking rocks where it grew, it was used in herbal medicine to break up bladder stones! Also of interest are the alpine cushion varieties, the kabashianas, with their lime-encrusted leaves.
A plant which loves dry and sunny limestone crevices and puts up with fierce winds is Aethionema x Warley Rose with grey/blue leaves and a dome of deep pink flowers 12 inches across. It has a long flowering period of April to June and comes from Turkey. It was grown in the garden at Great Warley in Essex from about 1910 onwards, the garden that belonged to Ellen Willmott, incidentally one of the founders of The Glynde School for Lady Gardeners, founded in 1902 in collaboration with that other famous gardener, writer and designer, Gertrude Jekyll.
Mark Curtis, Plant Area Manager, Paradise Park.