Alpines bring a hint of early colour at Brodsworth Hall

PUBLISHED: 00:29 09 May 2013




Alpines bring a hint of early colour at Brodsworth Hall and head gardener Dan Booth brings us up to date with gardening duties

Primula villosaPrimula villosa

May can be a rewarding, albeit busy month in the garden. By now summer should be beckoning and plants springing into life all over the garden. With the perennials now well on their way, remember to keep an eye on the supports. Even the low maintenance method of using netting needs checking for holes or sagging sections, and the odd stem may need poking back in the right direction. This is especially important on early flowering plants with heavy blooms such as Paeonia.

Here at Brodsworth it’s a different, more diminutive type of perennial that is the star of the show in May. Our alpine beds were first constructed back in the late 19th century on an ideally situated south facing bank just below the Summer House. After several decades of neglect they were finally restored to their former glory in 2008 and now contain 200 different species of alpine plants from North America and Europe.

Scilla bifloraScilla biflora

Alpines are sometimes labelled as difficult or unreliable, and although this is true of some, many alpines thrive in the British garden given the right aspect and soil. The little bit of extra work is really worth it when early summer arrives and the fantastic floral display begins.


As the name suggests, alpines are generally native to the mountainous regions of the world. In these places it is usually very cold and dry in the winter and very bright (if not warm) and dry in the summer, with high winds being a year round consideration. Alpines have evolved in these conditions meaning they thrive in loose, gravelly soil in a breezy, south facing location. In their wild setting they tend to get most of their water in one go when the snow melts in April and May, resulting in the early summer flowering period many of them have.

Many gardeners simply do not have the space to dedicate a large area to an alpine display but fortunately the compact nature of many alpines makes them the ideal plant for a pot or a nice stone trough. The RHS Malvern flower show is a great place to pick up a few choice plants.

In the rest of the garden we are making use of any warm dry days to keep the weeds at bay by regularly hoeing through the shrub beds. The lawns are growing at a pace now too so weekly mowing is also high on the agenda. Away from the basic maintenance there are also many more jobs on the list for May.

Depending on the weather and how late the last frost is, the bedding change over takes place at the end of this month. If you have a sheltered garden and your bedding is to be planted out in a nice, warm spot you should be OK to plant summer bedding in the last week of May but keep an eye on the long range forecasts for frosts or overnight temperatures below 5°c and act accordingly.

At Brodsworth 10,000 spring bedding plants and 7,000 bulbs will be removed and replaced with 12,000 summer bedding plants for this season’s stunning display. This year we are using Verbena, Lobelia, Salvia and Laurentina among others in a subtle and cool design to help you ‘chill out’ on a hot summer’s day.

Depending on the weather, you may also plant your Dahlias and Cannas at the end of May. Try mixing them with a bedding display for added height and variety.

All that remains now is for us to keep our fingers crossed for a good summer. We had one last year - it was in March…for a week.

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