A Manual of Alpine and Rock Garden Plants

Reviewed by Sara Williams and Catherine McCormick for Flora Borealis, Vol. 3 No. 3 September 1990

A Manual of Alpine and Rock Garden Plants, ed. by Christopher Grey-Wilson, Timber Press, Oregon, 1989.

This book is intended primarily for the beginning rock gardener and includes 3 sections - a short one dealing with the cultivation of alpine plants, an index, and a part entitled the 'A-Z of Alpine Plants' which makes up the bulk of the book. As this title suggests, the genera are listed alphabetically and it is a compendium of the large majority of alpine plants listed in nursery catalogues.

Alpines are mountain plants growing about the tree-line or next to the Arctic Circle. A wide variety of growing conditions exists in alpine regions. Generally, these plants are low in stature, and thrive during a very short growing season. However, if a grower wishes to encourage a wide variety of alpines, conditions will need to vary considerably as these plants survive in many habitats.

Rock gardens are used to re-create sample mountains or whole ranges in miniature. It is important, of course, for a rock garden to look natural and the authors suggest the use of local stone to make the site realistic. The site itself would be open to sun, away from tree root competition. Good drainage should be provided. A slope or bank is the best location for a rock garden, and rocks themselves should be placed in a similar fashion (horizontally), partially buried in soil. On the south side of these rocks, heat-loving plants can be located; on the north side, the cool and shade-loving species. Raised beds of any size or any position are another possibility. These provide good drainage and plants are often shown to their best advantage.

It is easy to find information in this book and symbols are given for sun, shade, soil type and ease of growing. Hardiness information is not included. The book also contains nice line drawings and color plates. Some of the cultural instructions are British in nature and Saskatchewan readers will be amused by the suggestion to fertilize in late January or February, or the frost requirement to break dormancy! Beginning rock gardeners may not be readily attracted to the book because of its size and wordiness, but useful information is contained within its pages.