Saturday, 17 March 2018

Make a mini alpine garden in a broken pot

Mini alpine garden in recycled broken pot Green Fingered Blog
What can you do with a broken plant pot? I've turned one into a mini alpine garden!

This is a simple and quick garden project, ideal for any garden, even if all you have is a small patio or balcony.

It's also a fantastic way of recycling a broken pot.


How to make a mini alpine garden from a broken pot

Pots break. Every now and then, it just happens. Terracotta pots and other porous pot types are especially prone to cracking, as water can infiltrate them and then freeze, creating cracks. If this happens to small pots you can break them up completely and use them as crocks - small chunks of pottery placed over the drainage holes of pots to stop them getting clogged up. 

A layer of crocks in a large pot will help make sure the plants roots can't sit in water and rot.

Once the water trickles down to the crocks it will dissipate more quickly and prevent the soil above getting waterlogged. But occasionally you might get a casualty that remains useful as a container, and not just a crock.


Can I make an alpine garden in my broken pot?

Of course if you've simply dropped the pot and it's broken into many pieces, there's not much point trying to plant anything in it. But a pot that's developed a crack and eventually split right open can easily be replanted if the base is still in tact.

That's what happened to the pot below. It held a large cordyline. The pot already had a crack in it and I knew eventually I would have to re-pot the cordyline but for now I was just moving it. It was very heavy and at one point I was unable to manoeuvre it delicately enough and it started to break right open.

I gave in and re-potted the cordyline, leaving me with what you can see here. Most of a large terracotta pot - and the rest of a terracotta pot. 

The base was still in one piece so I was determined to recycle it.    

Mini alpine garden in recycled broken pot Green Fingered Blog
A broken pot - but you can still plant in it

Making a mini rock garden

This feature is well suited to alpines because they are effectively miniature plants. Their natural habitat is high in the mountains, growing in crevices between rocks or in the thin soils that exist on steep slopes. In these exposed positions, they are used to lots of sun, but plenty of wind and rain too. They've evolved to be tough, hardy and compact in order to survive at altitude.

As small plants, alpines can be used in relatively small containers.    

What I'm aiming to do here is recreate, to some extent, that alpine environment in miniature, with rocks, gravel, and free draining soil. 

The soil doesn't have to be deep, but it absolutely mustn't get waterlogged.


Make sure there is good drainage

I started with a layer of crocks in the base. Then I started positioning the rocks. The aim is to create planting pockets behind the rocks. They need to be positioned in such a way as to create a barrier that prevents the soil from falling out, particularly at the bottom front of the pot. 

The rocks need to be as close as possible to each other, touching if possible, so the gaps are minimal.

Normally this is case of trying them in different positions and finding the ones that fit well together without falling over. 
Mini alpine garden in recycled broken pot Green Fingered Blog
Add a layer of crocks, then rocks to retain the soil

Build up in layers

Once I was happy with the initial lower level at the front of the pot, I filled in the gaps with soil and backfilled the rest of the pot up to the level of the rocks I'd put at the front.

Then I gradually built up the levels with more rocks to create more planting pockets further back, and higher up. The soil I used was previously used compost. Alpines don't need very rich soil so it doesn't need to be fresh compost.  
Mini alpine garden in recycled broken pot Green Fingered Blog
Building up layers of rock and soil to make planting pockets

It helps to align the rocks with each other so that they appear to be running in the same direction. This is a more natural look, roughly approximate to the strata you find in real rock formations. I think this is worth doing even though this container will be sat on the patio and this whole project is clearly completely artificial.

I'm not attempting to make it appear realistic in the same way as I have with the rock garden in the main part of the garden. 

But even so, arranging the rocks as naturally as possible provides more aesthetic appeal than a random collection of rocks in a pot. It seems to set off the plants more effectively.

It's a bit like arranging books on a shelf. You can arrange them any way you like but they tend to look better if they're all stood the same way up rather than thrown on to the shelf. 

Plug the gaps

My next job was to plug any large gaps caused by the curved shape of the pot and the irregular shapes of the rocks. Whilst I fitted them against the sides, and against each other as snugly as possible, some spaces remain. 

I used these with smaller pebbles of suitable sizes and shapes. I jammed them in as tightly as possible, so minimise the rate at which the soil will be washed away. 

Mini alpine garden in recycled broken pot Green Fingered Blog
Plug large gaps with pebbles

Get ready to plant

Here is my finished container ready to plant. You can see five or six planting pockets with just enough room to squeeze something in. 
Mini alpine garden in recycled broken pot Green Fingered Blog
My mini alpine container ready to plant

Five plants for a mini alpine garden


And here it is all planted up. My local garden centre was offering five small alpines for £10. Mulching with fine grit covers the soil and enhances the overall effect of these plants growing amongst the rocks as they would in the wild. As I mentioned above, although this container on a patio is never going to look like their natural setting, these elements set them off nicely.

Mini alpine garden in recycled broken pot Green Fingered Blog
My mini alpine garden in a broken pot
Here's what I planted, clockwise starting from the left hand side:

Erodium reichardii 

This erodium produces little white flowers in spring, on a cushion of small round green leaves.

Sempervivum calcareum

The familiar rosette of succulent leaves of the sempervivum seems to erupt from small rock crevices. This one had a couple of baby rosettes attached which I tried to separate and put into the smaller gaps in my arrangement. This was quite fiddly and one got broken. I managed to successfully plant the second one but I don't know if it will last, there were very few roots. If it does it will be a bonus.

Armeria

Armeria, known as "Sea thrift" is often seen on British coasts where the poor, stony soil and exposed conditions resemble the alpine environment, without the altitude. They are a staple of alpine arrangements, flowering reliably on little stalks throughout spring and summer, above a mat of thin grass-like leaves. This variety is "Nifty Thrifty".

Lewisia

Lewisia has a rosette of succulent leaves and sends up flowers in late spring and summer. This variety is "Elise".

Arabis
I put Arabis in the largest planting pocket, at the front of the pot. It has a cushion of leaves with flowers on stalks above. This one is "Rose Delight" and looks like it will be the first of mine to flower as it has some good buds already.

Have you planted up any recycled containers, or turned anything into a container? I'd love to see your ideas. You can post it to my Facebook page or tag me on twitter @GreenFingerBlog. 



2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post. It looks really nice. It also gives me some ideas if spring ever gets here in Boston.

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    1. Ha! Thanks. I hear its still quite chilly in New England. It is here too, its taking forever to warm up. Good news is that these alpine plants dont mind that at all, though a bit of sun will help to get them flowering.

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