If things get out of hand and you find high summer overtakes your garden, try these small gardens. Alpines grow imperceptively slowly, creeping across their containers, round shells, driftwood and pebbles, creating tiny landscapes, like the first gardens children make at nursery school. I buy or scavenge old metal filing drawers, troughs or sinks, anything low and shallow, fill them full of plants and beachcombings, and keep them in the rain shadow of a fence slightly on the tilt so they don’t get waterlogged.
Although you’ll probably start with the search for an attractive container, for the plants, the most important element is the soil. Make sure you have plenty of drainage holes then scatter the base with crocks. Half fill with John Innes soil-based compost no 3 mixed with grit (I like silver Cornish grit) to keep it open and free draining. Pop in your plants and populate the spaces in between with favourite shells, fossils and driftwood.
I prefer the textured foliage plants, like mossy raoulias, cushions of sagina, ferny Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’ – a chocolate brown carpeting alpine; saxifrage ‘Bob Hawkins’, sedums acre elegans and spatheulifolium; sempervivums and thymes, the ones with tiny leaves and minute flowers, like T. ‘Hartington Silver’ and ‘Bertram Anderson’.
Once settled, these tiny delights need little care or comfort, just shelter from winter rains. A small pitched roof will keep the showers off, but still allow plenty of ventilation – imagine Swiss alpine conditions.