Alpines out of Africa

Turquoise flowers and tiny hedgehogs that smell of jasmine…? All part of the joy of South African alpines

The Alpine Display House at RHS Garden Wisley aims to give a year round display of interest, showcasing the best examples of the true alpine plants and bulb collections we hold here. Many true alpines (those which naturally grow above the tree line) flower in spring or early summer, as in habitat they aim to flower and set seed in the short season between spring snow melt and autumn snow fall.

Massonia pustulataThroughout the winter our collection of winter-growing South African bulbs helps to keep the display house alive with colour and interest. Many of the bulbs do not take kindly to the cold, wet winters we experience in the UK and are rarely seen growing outside in this country. Thus the display house is an opportunity to show off some of these wonderful plants.

Massonia, or hedgehog plant (pictured above right) is one of my favourites. They produce two leaves which lie flat against the ground or pot and the shaving brush-like inflorescence appears in the centre of the two leaves. Massonia jasminiflora is the smallest of the species but perhaps the strongest smelling. As the name suggests the smell is reminiscent of jasmine.

Lachenalia viridifloraWithin our Lachenalia collection – another type of South African bulb – the plants flower at different times throughout the winter, providing colour for the display house from late October right through to March. Not to be missed is Lachenalia viridiflora, one of the first to flower in the autumn. Its flower colour is the most unusual turquoise blue.

Oxalis glabraOxalis – that’s a weed isn’t it? The South African oxalis collection that we grow at Wisley is far removed from the troublesome weeds that as gardeners we battle against. It is amazing to see the variety in leaf shape and flower colour that this collection provides.

Whatever the weather, the alpine display house continues to bloom throughout the winter months. Small is beautiful!

Have a look at some more information on oxalis, and distinguish between this varied plant's ornamental and nuisance weed varieties.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.