This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
In the strict sense, Alpine plants are such as grow in latitudes ranging from the greatest elevation, or perpetual snow line towards the equator, to less elevated situations near the poles. Thus it is on the Andes and Himalayas, at an elevation of from 12,000 to 15,000 feet a similar flora exists, and many species are identical with those found in Central Europe at not more than 4,000 to 6,000 feet elevation. And these again have an agreement with those of Lapland and Siberia on low mountain ranges, or still farther north at the level of the sea.
But in speaking of a collection of Alpine plants it is not necessary to be confined within such limits as this would impose. At the same time a collection pure and simple from those high latitudes would be of rare value, and embrace many of the most unique and interesting productions in the vegetable kingdom. But no violence could be done, or improper alliances formed, by associating with these as many as are diminutive in size whose natural habitats are the mountains and meadows of more temperate regions. Out of this larger field a fuller collection could be obtained, and the enjoyment of its possession increased in a corresponding degree by the great diversity of forms which it would present; each and every one so distinct and attractive as to keep awake his interest all the year through. When Spring comes, and even before the rigrors of Winter have succumbed to gales from the South, which blow softly, there is an awakening in a full collection which tells that in their native homes many flourish and bloom, even up to the skirts of perpetual snow.
And thus there is an early beginning to the floral year, which need suffer no abatement on and down to its rounded close.
In getting together such a collection, the first move to be made is to collect as many as might be deemed suitable in the neighborhood of home, and at the same time add to these, as circumstances permit, the most approved varieties of other parts of the country. This would necessitate excursions to the woods, the meadows, and the sea-shore, from all of which places materials could be gathered every way fitted to satisfy the craving of the true naturalist. The South and West also would contribute of their riches; and if what could be got in this way did not suffice, thousands more may be had in Europe at reasonable rates, culled from many of the most interesting families. Primulaceae alone would make an interesting group, embracing as it does a goodly number of the most beautiful plants in cultivation. Not alone is Primula rich in species but Aretia, Androsace, Soldanella, Cyclamens, etc., are equally so. and all fitted to fill no mean place in every collection. Saxifragaceae, too, as has been well said,"constitute the glory and delight of the cultivator of Alpine Plants".
And although inferior to the Primrose family in the beauty of their flowers, they more than rival them in the diversity and evergreen character of their leaves. But any attempt to give a list of all that is worthy cannot be done here, as it would be incomplete without the enumeration of many hundreds; and therefore it would be better for those who wish to embark in the enterprise to communicate with those nurserymen and florists who now happily devote a portion of their time to this most interesting department of plant culture.
In the cultivation of these plants various methods have been resorted to with a fair decree of success. The free-growing varieties do well planted in front lines in herbaceous borders, while the more delicate species do better in pots, when they can be conveniently placed in pits or frames during the Winter months. But for a large proportion of those that are perfectly hardy, small compartments or beds for each species, divided by tile or slate set on edge, and raised several inches above the ground level, is the most satisfactory way of any, as it not only prevents the different sorts from running together, but the beds can be raised above the general level to suit those that delight in dry situations. But whichever method is adopted, care should be taken to supply the various species with a suitable compost in which to grow. And this is not hard of accomplishment, as the overwhelming majority delight in a mixture of peat or leaf mould, loam and sand.
The interest in the collection would be greatly enhanced by the whole being arranged on some intelligible plan; and there is none belter, perhaps, than that pointed out in the Natural System of Botany. According to this method, all those of a family would be brought together, at once showing their relationships, and also their specific differences. But we have seen fine collections arranged simply in lines according to height, color, and times of flowering, which, when correctly named and properly cared for, afford both pleasure and instruction.