Gardening: Hardy alpines are the budding stars of winter

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December is a quieter time of the year in the Alpine House here at Harlow Carr. Many of the plants are becoming dormant to protect themselves and the shoots die back to overwintering rosettes.

Plants like Silene acaulis and Androsace villosa become golden hummocks and the alpine house landscape is studded with bronze, copper and gold cushions.

It’s also the time of the year for seeing the new buds which will flower early in the spring, as early as January. Saxifrages, especially kabschia and burseriana types are showing the tell-tale spiky balls of buds. The odd flower is also opening on the Dionysia cushions and if you look carefully you can just see the purple or yellow buds like small gems hidden in the middle of the tiny rosettes, ‘Mike Bramley’ is a good example.

Quite a few plants have surprisingly brightly coloured autumn foliage too, Shortia uniflora var. kantoensis is a pretty woodland plant from the Kanto area of Japan. It forms a neat glossy hummock of bright green leaves. The pink tinged flowers are held on 5 cm tall stems and are gorgeous in spring. In winter however, the leaves turn a bright, shocking neon salmon-red.

Androsace rotundifolia from the Indian Himalayas forms a loose clump of round, wavy edged, downy green leaves with lovely apple blossom pale pink umbels of flowers in May/June. In winter some of the leaves turn a bright pillar box red, creating a striking contrast to the green.

A number of cyclamen are in flower at this time of the year too.

Cyclamen coum is just coming out and is incredibly hardy flowering into January and February. It has rounded leaves which are often a dark green which sets off the magenta, pink or white flowers beautifully. Silver leaf forms are also available; a particularly nice one is ‘Maurice Dryden’ with reddish stems and white flowers.

Cyclamen alpinum from SW Turkey is just coming into flower in the alpine house too. It is quite similar to Cyclamen coum in leaf form but smaller and has green leaves splashed with silver. The flowers are rich magenta.

New for this year in the alpine collection, we have had a large specimen of Cyclamen persicum ex Duma, Israel donated. It is covered in shell pink turning to richer pink around the mouth of the flowers; which themselves are quite large, up to 3cm in height. This is one of the hardiest forms of persicum, the grandfather of the florists’ cyclamen so popular in winter displays in and out of the house.

Ozothamnus coralloides is another gorgeous plant. Hailing from New Zealand it has woolly tubular stems with a growth habit very like a sea fan.

Why not come and have a look at the alpine house and explore all the different forms and textures?

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