March 19, 2006

March Alpine House


In the Alpine House, a number of the last bulbocodium type Narcissus are blooming (above). Narcissus tenuifolius, with foliage low to the ground, and N. filifolious, with more grassy, taller foliage are both good examples of this tiny tender alpine bulb rarely seen grown successfully in American gardens. Here, in New England, our winters are too cold to keep bulbs outdoors without protection, but also, the humid, rainy summers are too damp, to provide them the summer dryness and baking that they get in thier native mountains of Turkey and Morocco.

In my attempt to create an active and successful alpine house in New England, I've had to manage my own expectations, since I realized that there is a real reason for why there are no, or very few alpine houses in America. But I don't give up easily. First, for those of you new to the concept of growing alpine plants; in the United Kingdom, there is a long and rich history of competitive alpine plant culture, both those grown in the rock garden, as well as in pots for exhibitions. In fact, there are very competitive alpine societies in the UK.

Alpine houses are traditionally a frost free, rain free cool and buoyant atmosphere, which closely mimics the conditions found at high alpine elevation, where these alpine plants grow into their classic dense buns, tuft's and mounds. Plants can be carefully watered, fussed over and the environment can kept cool and cold, and fresh. Our hot and humid summers are difficult challenges to overcome, but I believe that if carefully sited, one can provide, a decent environment for some alpines.

In the UK, precious alpines like Draba, and Dionysia as well as small bulbs like these Narcissus, are grown under the protection of glass year round, but thier cool summers, and mild winters provide a more stable alpine house environment. Here in the Boston area, zone 5, we have to deal with extreme winter weather (below zero deg. F) and summer temps that can reach 100 deg. F. with humidity. So it is more challenging to recreate high alpine conditions than it would be in Seattle or Vancouver.

Some plants can handle the winter extremes, and remain in the raised sandbed plunges in the Alpine house all winter,(Primula, Androsace and Saxifraga all thrive with this treatment), frozen solid with the roof vents and door open to all but he most extreme blizzards. I can achieve some success with the more tender alpines, like marginally hardy bulbs, Fritillaria, tender Narcissus, Cyclamen by bouncing them back and forth between environments simply responding to seasons and to weather conditions. Creative use of an outdoor sand bed plunge, where hardy bulbs can be nestled down deep under the protection of a foot or more or sand, and the use of the cold glass greenhouse where winter temperatures can't drop below 45 deg. F. so plants never freeze, is the trick for successs like these bulbocodium, which are winter growers and need to perform thier growth cycle between September and April. They just want the same conditions that they recieve in their native lands, frost free, cool rainy winters, and a ho,t bone dry summer.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Oh yes, do leave me a comment!