Scree gardening

Taking inspiration from the alpine landscape, the perfect scree garden offer plants adequate moisture in summer along with good drainage and protection from damp in winter. These are the ideal conditions to display choice plants.

Aster alpinus  in a scree bed

Aster alpinus in a scree bed

Quick facts

Top five plants for scree gardens:

Introduction

In the garden, a scree bed tries to emulate nature. Screes occur in mountainous areas where rock faces disintegrate due to freeze-thaw action. Rock particles and loose stones travel down the slope and reduce the angle of steepness. Streams bring stones of varying sizes. Melting snow in the summer provides water, and in winter a blanket of snow protects plants from frost and desiccating winds.

Practical considerations

To make your scree garden, choose a sunny site that is well lit even in winter, and away from trees and their leaf fall. Then;

  • Clear all perennial weeds
  • Dig out about 75cm (30in) of soil from the site, making the base slope gently towards the bottom. Enough slope is needed to allow excess moisture to drain away, without the upper part becoming over-dry in summer
  • Cover the base of the area with about 15cm (6in) of rubble
  • Place another 15cm (6in) layer of small stones about 2.5cm (1in) diameter on top of the rubble
  • Fill up the hollow with a mixture of stone chips and gravel
  • Lay a layer of about 7.5cm (3in) depth of free draining soil mix of one part loam or good top soil, 1 part leaf mould, or peat substitute and 2 parts grit by volume
  • Top off with a 5cm (2in) layer of gravel. Limestone chips are used for alpines from chalk or limestone areas and shingle, washed gravel or granite chippings for those from neutral or acid soils. Avoid flint chips as they do not conserve moisture
  • Try to add some larger stones to add character to the site, and create some protection for plants. Just a few will do, but they are useful as stepping-stones when weeding, as well as for aesthetic reasons. Large stones should match chippings

Care of scree plants

Plants with leaves covered with fluff or down need winter protection from drying winds and damp. In their native habitat snow protects them. From October to March, suspend a sheet of acrylic or polycarbonate over the plants using corner supports.

Water well in dry spells during the growing season. In well-constructed screes plants are deep-rooting, as in natural screes, but may need extra water.

Lightly top-dress in May with the compost mixture used in the original construction, with added fertiliser. This will wash down deep into the scree bed, providing nutrition for searching roots.

Suitable plants

Cushion plants and those that are mat-forming are ideal for scree gardens. Try to avoid rampant growers, tall plants or those with large foliage.

Spring-flowering (April-June) up to 15cm (6in) in height

Androsace sarmentosa
Aubrieta
Draba aizoides
Gentiana verna, Gentiana verna
var. alba
Geum montanum
AGM (through to October)
Lychnis alpina
Mazus reptans
Petrocallis pyrenaica
Saxifraga
(Kabschia Group) e.g. S. burseriana, S. 'Gregor Mendel' AGM
Soldanella alpina, S. montana

Spring-flowering up to 30cm (1ft) in height

Alyssum montanum
Aurinia saxatilis
var. citrinum
Saxifraga oppositifolia, S. oppositifolia
subsp. latina, S. retusa

Summer-flowering (June-October) up to 15cm (6in) in height

Acantholimon venustum
Androsace lanuginosa
AGM
Anthyllis montana ‘Rubra’ AGM
Aquilegia saximontana
Armeria juniperifolia
AGM
Asperula gussonii
Aster alpinus
AGM
Campanula alpina, C. pulla, C. raineri AGM
Cyananthus lobatus AGM, C. microphyllus AGM
Dianthus alpinus AGM, D. freynii, D. pavonius
Dryas octopetala
‘Minor’ AGM
Edraianthus pumilio AGM, E. serpyllifolius
Erinus alpinus
AGM
Erodium
Gentiana saxosa
Geranium
(Cinereum Group) 'Ballerina' AGM, G. cinereum var. subcaulescens ‘Guiseppi’ AGM
Hypericum coris
Lewisia columbiana, L. cotyledon
AGM, L. oppositifolia, L. rediviva
Linaria alpina
Oxalis enneaphylla
AGM
Petrorhagia saxifraga
Potentilla nitida, P. nitida
‘Rubra’
Silene acaulis
Vitaliana primuliflora

Summer-flowering up to 30cm (1ft) in height

Aethionema grandiflorum AGM
Geranium sanguineum, G. sanguineum ‘Album’ AGM
Papaver alpinum, P. triniifolium

Plants suitable for partial shade

Androsace laevigata
Aquilegia saximontana
Campanula
Cyananthus lobatus
AGM, C. microphyllus AGM
Gentiana
Linaria
Mertensia
Omphalodes
Primula auricula
Ramonda
Saxifraga

Dwarf shrubs and conifers

Shrubs 
Betula nana
Daphne blagayana
Daphne cneorum ‘Eximia’ AGM

Conifers
Abies balsamea Hudsonia Group
Cedrus deodara ‘Pygmy’
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’ AGM
Cryptomeria japonica ‘Nana’
Cryptomeria japonica ‘Vilmoriniana’ AGM
Pinus mugo ‘Mops’ AGM

RHS Find a plant


Gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Did you find the advice you needed?

RHS members can get exclusive individual advice from the RHS Gardening Advice team.

Join the RHS now

Get involved

We're a UK charity established to share the best in gardening. We want to enrich everyone's life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.