Alpine troughs and pans can be as small as a single dish, right up to an elegant stone trough; you’ll find a superb selection of suitable containers here at the garden centre in Henley on Thames. In their native habitats high in the mountains, alpine plants grow among thin, dry, rocky soils in full sun, so they make natural choices for containers; you can also create a dedicated rock garden or even plant them in cracks between your paving or in the garden wall.
Good choices to start off your alpine collection include sedums and houseleeks (Sempervivum), their rosettes of purple-tinged leaves spreading to form dense mats of foliage. Stonecrops have trailing red-tinged foliage, with bronze flowers in late summer, while sea thrift sends up bright pink bobbles. Saxifrages are fantastic value, smothered with flowers in shades from purple and pink to purest white; and alpine pulsatillas send up exquisite little purple flowers in spring. There are dozens more to choose from, though, so pop into the garden centre and see what grabs your fancy.
Fill your trough with a 50:50 mix of soil-based John Innes no.2 compost, and horticultural grit, stopping about 12cm below the rim to allow for stone mulches. At this point, you can add larger ornamental rocks or slates laid on their edges to vary the textures, act as a backdrop for your plants, and add interest to your scene.
Tuck your plants in and around the rocks, arranging them as you prefer, then plant at the same depth they were growing in their pots. Finish off by covering the soil between the plants with a layer of gravel and pebbles to set them off to perfection.