Alpine troughs, alpine weather (+ beans)

First published by Rattan Direct on 8 May 2016.

Alpine troughs or sinks

Revive your patio with an easy to keep alpine trough or pot.

Shallow sink with crocks before planting alpines
Shallow sink with crocks before planting alpines (Sarah Buchanan)
  1. Choose a container: stone troughs look great, old ‘Belfast’ sinks are popular and any wide and shallow container with good drainage will do the job.
  2. Save your back and find its home before you fill it with soil and plants. Put a brick, block or pot feet under each corner to raise it and help it drain well.
  3. Put a layer of broken flower pots, coarse gravel or stone on the bottom. Fill the container up to about 5cm from the top with potting or multipurpose compost mixed half and half with potting grit (available from garden centres).
  4. Add some chunky stones to create texture or raised hollows for plants or add broken rims of large terracotta flower pots.
  5. Go plant shopping! Choose different leaf and flower shapes and colours, and some plants that will trail over the edges.
  6. At home, arrange the plants (in their pots for now) to look good.
  7. Put the pots in water to make the soil soft and moist (it will need a bit of time if the pots are dry) then tap each plant out of its pot and plant so that the top of the roots (the rootball) is about 5cm above the surface of the soil around. When they are all in, sprinkle a layer of small gravel or chippings up to the rim of the container.
  8. Stand back and be amazed!
Shallow sink after planting with alpines
Shallow sink after planting with alpines (Sarah Buchanan)

2016 is the 30th anniversary of Fir Croft, the wonderful rock and scree garden filled with alpine plants in Derbyshire. It’s a paradise for fans of rock gardens and alpine plants, and a dazzling and mesmerising mix for the rest of us. Children especially often love the miniature plants and features. The garden is open for the National Gardens Scheme on 22 May, 5 June and 19 June. It’s next to the Alpine Plant Centre, Calver, Derbyshire S32 3ZD.

Runner beans, dwarf beans, French beans

Beans love a sunny, well-drained spot. They particularly like moist, fertile soil in a sheltered spot but they can be grown successfully in pots up a trellis or pergola. And they look fabulous!

Sow some runner beans, French climbing beans and/or dwarf (bush) beans inside now. This will give them the warm (over 12°C ) conditions they like to germinate quickly and reliably, providing a head start for life outdoors and giving you the prospect of early crops. It also makes good sense for those of us in northern areas, or on heavy soils which take a long time to warm up enough for bean germination.

All these large beans can be sown in the same way. Sow one bean seed about 4 cm deep in a 7-8cm pot filled with moist multipurpose compost. Water well. Put the pots in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill and the seedlings will be ready to harden off and plant out in about three weeks when the risk of frost has passed. Make sure the soil in the pots is kept moist, but don’t waterlog them.

It’s fun to grow one or two in a jar too. You can see how the seed and plant progresses, day by day.

It's fun to see a climbing bean germinate and grow in a jar
It’s fun to see a climbing bean germinate and grow in a jar (Sarah Buchanan)


Alpine weather – protect from frost

It may be glorious weather where you are today but we’ve had some extraordinary snow and hail in the past week or so. So you won’t be surprised if we recommend you keep protecting some of your plants from Jack Frost. You can use newspaper, old bubble wrap or net curtains – anything to stop the cold air reaching and burning or killing your younger and more tender plants. Be especially careful with any plant that faces the early morning sun. A great deal of damage can be done when frozen plants defrost. Keep young tender plants under cover, at least at night – those tempting plants in garden centres aren’t ready for life outdoors in harsh weather, and garden centres are rightly keeping their warning signs on frost tender plants.

Sheets of newspaper provide simple protection from frost. Alpine
Some sheets of newspaper provide simple protection from frost in springtime (Sarah Buchanan)


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