A guest rant and giveaway on alpines


I am so pleased to present Friend of Rant Joseph Tychonievich. Joseph has a new position at rare plant nursery Arrowhead Alpines and wants to share his enthusiasm about alpines, as well as share some alpines!—Elizabeth

The winner will be announced Friday (tomorrow) at 10 a.m. EST.


The great garden writer Elizabeth Lawrence said “All gardeners become rock gardeners if they garden long enough.” I'm not sure that is true, but it is undeniable that all gardeners, if they garden long enough, run out of space. A taste for wonderful trees and shrubs will fill up even the largest garden in no time, as will gorgeous sweeps of perennials in the style of Piet Oudolf. That may be why so many gardeners then become rock gardeners. When your plants' mature size is measured in inches not feet, you can easily install an entire miniature landscape in the space that had been occupied by just one sprawling ornamental grass

The traditional rock garden is an elaborate affair, recreating the look and drainage of a mountain top landscape with lots of, you guessed it, rocks, but the easiest way to get into these fascinating group of plants is containers. Growing wild in small amounts of soil in crevasse of rocks, these plants are perfectly adapted to life in containers, which are a perfect way to provide them the excellent drainage they crave, and also raises them up where you can appreciate their tiny, intricate forms.

Convinced to give them a try? Well, here's your chance for a jump start. Leave a comment for a chance to win a Trough Garden Collection from Arrowhead Alpines. You'll get four rock garden plants and a dwarf shrub, perfect to plant up a tiny landscape in a trough or other container.

But be warned. Alpines are highly addictive, and once you have a little container of perfect, miniature beauty, it is a slippery slope to replacing a great chunk of your perennial boarder with a exquisite alpine meadow.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Yesterday when I came home and saw a squirrel had dug a hole in my alpine-filled trough (Damn squirrel! Thank you, squirrel-enabling-peanut-passing-out-neighbors!) I cursed the squirrel and thought about how that trough should be refreshed this year. (Coincidence?) Last year to get my alpine fix on I and created a bigger “garden” in a whiskey barrel. Not ideal, and, yes, perhaps a little “ghetto,” but it’s still cool. On my bucket list is indulging in a proper rock garden…one day.

  2. I’m gathering mini-accessories to build a fairy garden this year, and I’ve been looking for conifers and alpines that would fit the scale. This looks like just the place I’ve been looking for!

  3. I’ll admit it – I’m a rock hoarder and have even known to haul them away from a roadside or construction site. The challenge to create yet another new idea garden in a container? I’m all over it!

  4. Though I doubt you can send one of these across the border I’m inspired non the less! Now to find a local supplier.. maybe its time I finally join the local alpine garden club!

  5. While my in-ground garden is still a work in progress, it would be lovely to start an alpine garden. Many, many years ago, in England, a beloved aunt of mine taught my sister and me to make beautiful little garden in old chipped bowls and tureens. It was the perfect size for a child to take home and tend. To make such a garden – an alpine garden would be delightful.

  6. I have made some hypertufa containers for sedums and such, and I would like to experiment more with alpines that might actually survive the humid deep south zone I garden in.

  7. I’ve always loved rock gardens. We put one in at work and it has become a favorite for many people. At home, I have one small area and a small trough. Would love to do another one!

  8. Oooh! What fun! I am looking to redo my front bed…which we have a river rock trail going through where the yard water flows, 3 boulders and more! What great curbside fun this would be…especially with 5 little helpers at home who love to dig in the dirt (kids that is). Lol!

  9. ohhh, how well i know the addiction of which you speak. i visited arrowhead, bob, and brigitta a few years ago, and came away enlightened, newly poverty-stricken…and ecstatic beyond words. how i would love this teeny, tiny garden…*LOVE*

  10. Rabbit rant – Rabbits should know that daphnes are poisonous(mine are from Arrowhead. Instead, the little varmints have to nibble in the middle of the stems and ruin the natural shape of my plants. In the spring I will post some of the pics. Alpines we go nicely in my rock garden! 🙂

  11. There are also the spots in your yard that are hot and dry that you can’t get most perennials to grow. Eventually, you have to address them (spaces next to pavement or hot, dry hillsides) and alpines do such a great job, happily growing where no other plants are able to. Hopefully, by the time you get around to these troublesome spots, you have been gardening long enough to know that alpines are just what you need for those spaces.

  12. please please please pick me! i’ve had the worst year ever and my garden suffered extreme neglect because of it and i need some new joy to wake up things. Pretty please????

  13. Well, I already have the rocks. Hubby laughs because I pull out rocks from whatever section I’m working in, but separate them by merits – pretty or interesting over here, ugly or ordinary over there. Then those in the pretty pile end up surrounding succulents or houseplants or perennials, or maybe just lined up on the fence to be admired. The unattractive pile ends up in the bottom of the next re-potting or drainage project. And then everywhere we go – forest, beach, desert, etc – we all end up picking up more rocks to decorate windowsills and flower pots and accidental rock gardens.

    I’ve thought about making a mini-garden like these, but didn’t realize it was actually a niche market in itself. My daughter (who loves all things miniature) will be thrilled to know she can now garden minutely.

  14. I have just started to garden at 6,800 ft in California. We have mostly Bear Clover. I need these plants to help me get some color.

  15. I was planning on making my first hypertufa container this spring! Alpines rule! I just need to find a few that can survive a tropical (Brooklyn)summer!

  16. Sadly, it’s so darn humid here that I can’t do most alpines. (Somewhere there must be a really WET mountain, right?) But I love the look of the photos!

  17. I little rock garden in a trough is such a nice dream :-)!! I also have lots of rocks with surface each year so lots to work with.

  18. I ordered a number of dwarf spruces and a contorted larch from Oregon-Grown Nursery (at that point, on eBay) last year–they’d go well in an micro or alpine garden.

    Thus far, my only encounter with an Alpine nursery was out of Inverness along the A82 in 1987. I had never encountered Alpines before, so it was eye-opening for a young woman from Southern California.

    I wish I could have bought some plants, carefully nurturing them for the next two weeks until I flew home, but I knew California Ag would never likely let them in, with or without a phytosanitary certificate!

    I wish I could go back there, but I’m not sure where “there” was, nor am I certain it’s still in operation. It might be Abriachan Nursery, but I must await their reply to be sure.

    I wouldn’t mind a chance to have an area of my garden turned into a rocky haven for alpines–with real rock, not that crushed or ugly hardscape rock. River rocks, small boulders–those would make a lovely base.

    Jennifer, in our last house, I had a “dry creek bed” installed, in order to take the water from the poorly placed downspot, past the (male) Canary Island Date Palm, out to the curb, where the water wouldn’t destroy foundation or plantings. In the dry seasons, it looked nicely ornamental, as I’m sure yours does. We did have three boulders in front, two of which were large enough for a 4 yr old to jump from onto the ugly hardscape (under which there was an actual parking spot) and acquire multiple contusions and painful scrapes. I had them moved to the mid-back, in the middle of the small and softer lawn.

    On the eastern side of the (rental) house before that, I set out a sensory garden with interesting low-water plants that my son could safely explore. Then I moved, individually, 11 bags of black river rock to cover the ground around it. When I totted up how many pounds of rock I’d moved that day, I was quite surprised, as it was about 87 lbs.

    Oh, let me have a chance at this book!

  19. I love Arrowhead Alpines. My mother introduced me to the nursery as a kid, probably 15 years ago. I remember driving into the middle of nowhere on a dirt road and turning right into the gravel driveway. It was hard to believe we had arrived at such a well known nursery! I had no idea what I was looking for or, heck, looking at while browsing the nursery. It all looked cool to me.

    Over the years, I grew to love Bob’s catalog. Always good for a laugh! His opening letter was hysterical. The descriptions were equally as funny and honest. Sometimes the descriptions didn’t even mention the plant! Other times he admitted he hated the plant, but he sold it anyway. And the non-existent return policy (it was alive when it left here, so…). Bob certainly had personality and will be missed.

    I am so glad that someone is helping to continue Arrowhead Alpines. Good luck, Joseph! I look forward to seeing how you change and grow the nursery and take it forward into the future.

  20. I have been thinking about doing this somewhere in our yard. These are lovely! We have collected rocks from our adventures around the state to use around the yard for things like this.

    Also, I have been wondering at the hardiness of some of these, because we live on a low ridge top (bedrock showing) with an airstrip on it, and I would love to plant something on the airstrip besides grass. A little flower that could tolerate getting run-over by an airplane tire infrequently would be amazingly cool!

  21. I have a problem with groundhogs,so I have decided to make more troughs to place on low piles of rock in my wired up (groundhog proof) vegie garden. This would be a lovey start to my somewhat unconventional ‘rock garden’.

  22. How fun to have an alpine garden! I know nothing about this type of plant and I’d love to learn more!

  23. I would love to start an alpine garden! The alpine section is always one of my favorites when I visit a botanical garden; it would be wonderful to have my own little space like that.

  24. My garden is a slope I’ve reclaimed from weeds and erosion. There are lots of rocks on the hill, and I’ve planted bulbs, sweet william, and many lovely plants all around. I’m always looking for new alpine plants to add to it create a natural look. I just checked out what Arrowhead Alpines offers, and it’s gorgeous!

  25. Holy Cats! It’s 10 minutes ’til 10! Is it too late to be included? I would love this garden to plant in one of the hypertufa containers I made over the winter.

  26. It’s time to refill the hypertufa pots I made several years ago. I’d love these little aplines!

  27. Please choose me! I had to leave my Alpines behind when I moved into a condo and this would get me back in the saddle again! I had the right soil mix and everything… I love Alpines!

  28. This is a great opportunity. Last year I was layed off in May and had the whole summer to work on our yard and garden. We’d fenced off 80% of the backyard for our dog, leaving the back 20 ;-> for a combo veggie/flower garden. I managed to get the veggie portion done but because I’m doing it all myself and am starting from scratch, I didn’t get to the flower portion of the program. Adding a taste of the Alpine to the plan would help to provide colors and textures I hadn’t considered.

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