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Alpine aces; NORTHOP COLLEGE LECTURER NICOLETTE EVANS ON THE JOYS OF A GREAT SURVIVOR.

WHEN I turn into my drive I am greeted by a bank of snowdrops (galanthus nivalis) - as I've watched their epic struggle against the elements (particularly deep snow this year) I've thought about a display of other plants also skilled at surviving extreme environments, such as alpines.

Alpines, found generally above the tree line in high mountainous areas, are exposed to a wide range of temperatures, combined with free-draining low-nutrient soils, strong winds, high light and ultraviolet levels.

To thrive and survive in such conditions alpines have evolved a number of defensive tactics. They are low growing, mat or cushionforming.

This helps protect them against harsh winds and the cold.

They are dormant under snow, have extensive root systems to seek out moisture and nutrients and often have spiny growths to deter grazing animals.

These conditions differ from a British winter but provided you carry in mind their natural growing conditions you can grow alpines quite successfully.

I do not have enough space available for a large bed or rockery structure so I am going to set up an alpine trough. I have an old Belfast sink, which will be ideal, but you can use a range of containers - the key is providing a good level of drainage.

As you build up a container, always put a layer of broken crocks in the bottom to help the drainage but retain the fine materials, ensuring the roots never sit in water. Use a planting mix of 30% general purpose compost, 30% leaf-mould or garden compost and 40% added grit. John Innes Potting Compost No 2 or 3 could be used, but not if you try to avoid peat-based materials.

Finish with a top dressing of pea-gravel and site the container in a sunny location. The majority of alpine plants do best in an open sunny position away from overhanging tree branches.

Water regularly but not excessively Keep the alpines drier in winter, but do not allow them to completely dry out. In midspringtime apply a general fertiliser at just 25% of the manufacturer's recommended strength.

In winter containers into a cool well-ventilated greenhouse or put a shelter over.

There is an enormous choice of plants- here's a few to start: ? Andromeda evergreen dwarf shrub with narrow blue-grey leaves and small pink flowers ? Cassiope ericaceous evergreen with delicate white bells in May ? Chionohebe pulvinaris tiny stem less flowers ? Daphne retusa dwarf evergreen with scented flowers in spring and orange autumn berries ? Draba yellow or white flowers ? Gentiana trumpet shaped ? Primula sweetly scented in a range of colours ? Saxiffraga silver cushion silver foliage with pink flowers in May-June ? Sempervivum coloured rosettes of foliage and dainty pink, white or yellow flowers ? Northop College will be hosting a Land based Taster Day on March 14, details 01244 831531 or email marketing@deeside.ac.uk diary dates toda? Open garden in the National Garden Scheme (NGS) at Ness Botanic Garden, Neston, 10am-4.30pm - PS6.50, chd free monday? Abergele and District floral Club holds its AGM, 7pm at St Paul's Chapel Hall tuesday? Janet Hughes of Wrexham gives a demonstration called Influential Women to Denbigh Floral Art Club, 7.30pm in Capel Mawr vestry ? Guided walk with the Gardener 11am at Bodnant 11am. PS2. Open day for tourist groups, ring 01492 650460 for details.

wednesday? Open garden in the NGS at Aberclwyd Manor, Derwen, Corwen, 11am-4pm - PS3, chd free ? Open day for tourist groups at Bodnant Garden, ring 01492 650460 for details.

thur? Amanda Williams gives a talk on Bumblebees to Llangernyw Gardening Club, 7pm at the Canolfan Open by appointment? Aberclwyd Manor, Derwen, Corwen. LL21 9SF Miss Irene Brown and Mr G Sparvoli 01824 750431 irene662010@live.com - PS3 chd free. Open every Wednesday until Sept 25, 11am to 4pm. Visitors also welcome by appt Feb-Oct

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Nicolette Evans with a selection of alpines
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Date:Mar 2, 2013
Words:640
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