Dwarf Perennials for the Miniature Garden

UNLESS otherwise stated, the plants in the following list will flourish satisfactorily in ordinary alpine compost and in a sunny aspect. The plants marked * require keeping in check by the removal of their outlying runners from time to time or they will eventually occupy too much space in the garden. Those marked ** appreciate protection from rain during the winter months. The height refers to the flowering stems.


The high alpine androsaces, with their neat little cushions studded with almost stemless flowers, would make ideal plants for the miniature garden, but unhappily they are so difficult to grow in tin’s country that we must leave them to the experts, with their alpine houses and other facilities. There are, however, a few species from lower elevations which are small enough for our purpose and easily grown in a light, well-drained soil with an extra ration of sharp grit.

A. cornea, and its varieties Hailed and Lagged, make neat tufts of narrow green leaves and bear flowers of different shades of pink. A. c. bdgantiaca is similar but with white flowers. April. 3 in.

** A. Chamaejasme bears white flowers with yellow eyes on rosettes of silvery foliage. May. 2 in.

* A. sempervivoides has bright pink flowers and glossy green rosettes, which multiply themselves by means of runners. May. 2 in.

** A. villosa and its variety arachnoidea resemble a compact form of A. Chamaejasme, with white flowers on woolly silver tuffets. April. 2 in.

Arabis To most people arabis means that ubiquitous and not particularly beautiful ramper, A. albida, but there are several other species in cultivation, two of which are small and neat enough for the miniature garden.

** A. androsacea might be mistaken at first sight for Androsace villosa. White flowers on silver cushions. April. 2 in.

** A. bryoides is much the same but even more compact. April. 2 in.


Everyone knows our native thrift, or sea pink (A. maritimd), garden varieties of which were so popular with our grandfathers as edgings to paths and beds. These are too tall for miniature gardens, but from the mountains of Spain comes a very compact species which is ideal for planting in crevices between the rocks.

A. caespitosa is, in effect, a condensed version of the common thrift, bearing almost stemless flowers whose only defect is that their colour is a pale and rather washy pink. There is also a white form, A. c. alba. May. 2 in.

A. caespitosa, Bevan’s var., has flowers of a deeper and richer pink, but loses something of the compact habit of the type. May. 3 in.


The Woodruff family, to which our native squinancy-wort belongs, includes several delightful species of dwarf habit, which enjoy similar conditions to the androsaces.

* A. lilaciflora caespitosa is a comparative newcomer to our gardens, and forms a prostrate mat, bearing the typical pink trumpets of the genus. Summer. 1 in.

A. nitida (syn. A. Gussonii) makes neat tufts of foliage resembling dark green moss, which forms a pleasing contrast to the pink flowers. Summer. 3 in.

** A. suberosa is the best of the Woodruffs in cultivation, and indeed one of the most popular of all alpine plants. Its foliage is silvery grey, and in favourable seasons the pink trumpets are borne throughout the summer months. May to August. 3 in.


Although this genus contains a great many species and hybrids of the highest value for the rock garden, most of them, unfortunately, are unsuited to all but the largest miniature garden, either on account of their invasive tendencies or because they bear flowers which are too large in proportion to the height of the plants. The two following species, however, may be admitted to the sink so long as they are kept under control.

* C. arvatica is a delightful little campanula forming prostrate mats which become covered in summer with star-shaped violet flowers. There is also a white variety, C. a. alba. Summer. 1 in.

* C. pulla bears bell-shaped flowers of a rich, glistening purple on upright stems. July. 3 in.


Only one species of this small genus, which is closely related to the gentians, is in common cultivation, and is sometimes listed in the catalogues under the alternative name of Erythraea.

C. scilloides (syn. Erythraea diffusa or E. Massonii) bears bright rose-pink flowers on rather loose tufts of glossy green foliage. Summer. 3 in.


Among the vast number of pinks now available to the rock gardener it is almost impossible to know where to draw the line when prescribing for the miniature garden. In the following list I include only the true miniatures.

D. Freynii makes neat little tuffets of blue-grey leaves, covered in summer with very small rose-pink flowers.

June onwards. 2 in.

D. microlepis is of similar habit but the leaves are greenish-grey in colour. Flowers pink. May and June. 2 in.

D. myrtinervis is virtually a condensed form of our native maiden pink (D. deltoides) and makes close mats of small bright green leaves, with stemless pink flowers. It should be given starvation diet in order to preserve its compact habit. June onwards. 1 in.

D. subacaulis bears carmine flowers on tufts of dark green foliage. June onwards. 2 in.


Douglasia is a genus akin to androsace, appreciating a similar gritty soil.

* D. laevigata forms a mat of glossy green rosettes, with bright rose-pink flowers in clusters. June. 2 in.

D. montana is rather neater, and its pink flowers are usually borne singly. June. 2 in.


Draba is a very large genus, of which a selection for the miniature garden may be made from the following. A very gritty soil, or scree, suits them best.

D. bryoides imbricata makes very neat and compact dark green domes, covered in early spring with yellow flowers. March and April. 2 in.

D. Dedeana is a white-flowered species with grey-green foliage. April. 2 in.

** D. mollissima, although exceedingly attractive, should not be attempted until the gardener has acquired considerable experience of alpines. It bears the typical yellow flowers of the genus set on neat domes of woolly grey-green rosettes, which hate getting wet, even in summer. April. 2 to 3 in.

** D. polytricha is of a similar persuasion, but with much larger individual rosettes, which are correspondingly less attractive. It is, however, slightly less intractable than the foregoing. April. 3 in.

D. rigida makes compact green cushions with relatively large yellow flowers. April. 3 in.


The common E. alpinus has flowers of washy lilac-pink, and is scarcely worth growing now that there are several much better garden forms available. As a rule, they are very short-lived plants, but are easily raised from seed, from which they come reasonably true to type. The following are all attractive varieties:

E. alpinus carmineus makes little dark green bushes with flowers of carmine-pink. May. 3 in.

E. alpinus Dr Hanele has still more brilliant flowers of deep carmine. May. 3 in.

E. alpinus Mrs Charles Boyle is the best of the three, and bears much larger flowers of clear rose-pink. May. 3 in.


Even the smallest of the heron’s-bills are apt to take up more than their fair share of space in the pan or sink, and as they grow from a central root-stock their circumference cannot be reduced. The following, how- ever, may be admitted to the larger types of miniature garden.

E. chamaedryoides (syn. E. Reichardii) make a flattish hummock of green scalloped leaves and bears stemless white flowers. Summer. 2 in.

E. chamaedryoides roseum (syn. E. Reichardii roseum) and its double-flowered variety (flore pleno) are hybrids between the preceding and following species, closely resembling the former except that their flowers are pink. Summer. 2 in.

E. corsicum is a slightly larger plant with attractive grey foliage and pink flowers. Summer. 3 in. Eunomia A genus closely allied to Aethionema, of which only a single species is in common cultivation.

* E. oppositifolia (syn. Aethionema oppositifolium) forms mats of rounded blue-grey leaves and bears (though rather shyly) pale pink flowers. In a lean, stony soil it stays reasonably compact, but under richer conditions it needs a measure of control. May. 2 in.


The glorious race of gentians is, unhappily, not well suited to pan or sink cultivation, but those who, like myself, are unable to resist them may try their hands at growing the well-loved spring gentian of the European Alps. Various composts have been recommended, but the secret of success is probably to start with small but well-rooted plants and to disturb the roots as little as possible when transplanting. They should be given plenty of water throughout the summer months.

G. verna makes neat clumps of glossy spoon-shaped leaves and bears starry flowers of the most brilliant azure blue. April and May. 3 in.

G. verna angulosa is a more robust form with slightly darker flowers. Most people find this easier to manage than G. verna. April and May. 3 in.


The crane’s-bill family includes a number of admirable plants for the rock garden, but like their close relations, the heron’s-bills, they are mostly just too large for the miniature garden. The undermentioned species, however, is, I think, admissible; indeed, it is too attractive to be left out.

G. Farreri (syn. G. napuligerum) is a most charming little plant, with scalloped reddish-green leaves and relatively large flowers of apple-blossom pink with black anthers. Summer. 3 in.


By comparison with the two last-named beauties, the globe daisies are humble and rather pedestrian plants. Nevertheless, they have their place in the alpine meadow, and the mat-forming kinds are useful for planting round the margins of the pool. The following are the best species for the miniature garden, and as they spread but slowly they are easily kept in check if they threaten in time to occupy too much lateral space.

* G. cordifolia bellidifolia makes a close mat of dark evergreen leaves with fluffy blue flower-heads. June. 2 in. * G. nana is a smaller and slower-growing version of the above. June. 1 in.

G. stygia has larger leaves, brighter blue flowers, and a rather more compact habit of growth. June. 1 in. Houstonia

The only species in common cultivation, is a most attractive one, known in America as bluets. Unfortunately it requires a damp, shady spot, and is therefore unsuited to the ordinary alpine sink.

H. caerulea bears delightful lavender-blue flowers on threadlike stems above a mat of minute green leaves. It likes a leafy soil, which must be kept permanently moist. Summer. 3 in.

Hypsela is likewise represented in our gardens by only one species, which enjoys the same conditions as Houstonia caerulea, to which it forms a good companion. It spreads underground rather rapidly, but as it is unsuited by its tastes to the alpine sink, this is not of very great consequence. It would make an effective carpet for a miniature garden planted with shade-loving shrubs.

* H. longiflora makes prostrate mats of narrow green leaves, which are studded throughout the summer with curiously shaped flowers of pale lilac splashed with crimson. Summer. 1 in.


Among the dwarf rhizomatous irises are two species small enough for a sink or trough, though rather too large for the pan garden. They look better when grown in a formal layout than in conjunction with rocks and alpines.

Both like a limy soil in full sun, and should be planted with the rhizomes showing above the soil.

I. lacustris is a beautiful miniature iris bearing lavender-blue flowers with golden crests. June. 3 in.

I. rubro-marginata (syn. I. Mellita) is a dwarf bearded iris with red-margined foliage and reddish flowers. May. 4 in.


Morisia has only a single species, which is found in sandy places, and likes similar conditions in the garden. Although a plant of the seashore rather than the hills, it associates very well with true alpines and is an admirable subject for the miniature garden.

M. monantha (syn. M. hypogaea) makes symmetrical rosettes of curiously notched leaves, in the centre of which nestle the clusters of bright yellow flowers. April and May. 1 in.


Paronychia is a family of dwarf carpeting plants which are chiefly of use as bulb cover. They are all more or less similar in habit and appearance.

* P. argentea forms a prostrate mat of silver-grey foliage and bears insignificant flowers with white papery bracts. July. 1 in.

* P. capitata and P. Kapela are much the same but with greener leaves. July. 1 in.


Petrocallis overlaps the genus Draba, but the following species is more usually known by the former name. It does best in a poor, gritty soil.

P. pyrenaica is a most attractive little plant, making a neat green cushion studded with stemless lavender flowers which emit a very faint scent. May. 2 in.


Polygala is a family whose members differ very widely in appearance and requirements. Other species are described in the section devoted to flowering shrubs. * P. calcarea, our native milkwort, is one of the few plants for the miniature garden bearing true blue flowers. It makes clumps of bright green foliage, which in time may become rather too wide for the smallest garden, and thrives best with plenty of lime in the soil. May. 2 in.


These are by far the best carpeters for the miniature garden, as they spread comparatively slowly and are never unduly invasive. They are grown for the sake of their foliage, the flowers in most species being of little account. Those described below are the ones most commonly grown by nurserymen.

R. australis, the most spectacular, makes prostrate mats of brilliant silver. The flowering period is of no moment and the height too small to measure.

R. glabra makes a bright green carpet and bears white flowers which are larger and more conspicuous than those of the other two species described. Summer.

R. lutescens is the smallest of all; a mere film of greyish green powdered in summer with minute yellowish flowers.


Of the many different sections into which this enormous family is divided only one, the Kabschia section, is of much interest to the miniature garden owner, but this gives him some of the best of all plants for pans, sinks and troughs. They enjoy a very gritty soil with plenty of limestone chips, copious supplies of water throughout the summer and some shade from the noonday sun. All make neat cushions from 1 to 2 in. in height, which in the course of time may attain a diameter of some 6 in. The main flowering display is in March (some earlier, others later), and as the flowers have very short stems, the total height of the plants rarely exceeds 3 in.

S. x Amitie, silver-grey rosettes and pale lilac flowers.

S. x Aubrey Pritchard, grey rosettes, rosy mauve flowers.

S. Burseriana, spiny grey rosettes, white flowers. There are several forms of S. Burseriana, of which Gloria and Magna have the largest flowers, and crenata is the most compact.

S. x Cranbourne is a fine hybrid with grey-green rosettes and bright pink flowers.

S. x Faldonside has spiny grey rosettes and sulphur-yellow flowers. A beautiful variety.

S. x Grace Farwell, grey-green rosettes, wine-red flowers.

S. x Iris Pritchard, grey rosettes, apricot flowers.

S. x Jenkinsae is a very free-flowering variety and should certainly be included in every collection. Grey-green rosettes, pale pink flowers with darker eyes.

S. x L. F. Godseff, grey-green rosettes, bright yellow flowers.

S. marginata, green rosettes margined with silver-white flowers. There are several forms of this species, of which Roclieliana is one of the best.

S. x Mrs G. Prichard, silver-grey rosettes, large deep pink flowers.

Apart from the Kabschias, there are only two saxifrages worth growing in the miniature garden. These both belong to the Euaizoon section, commonly known as the silver saxifrages. They make neat hummocks of grey-green rosettes edged and stippled with silver, and bear graceful sprays of small flowers on longer stems than the Kabschias. Both are easily grown in any light, limy soil in full sun.

S. Aizoon baldensis (syn. Mimitifolia) has the smallest rosettes of all, and the whole plant is very neat and compact. White flowers. June. 2 to 3 in.

S. cochlearis minor has larger and flatter rosettes, and needs rather more space. White flowers. May and June. 3 to 4 in.


There has in the past been a tendency to over-plant sedums in sink gardens, to the exclusion of more attractive plants. Being succulents, they do not associate well with alpines, and are best grown in a sink or trough all by themselves. Of the five hundred or so varieties known, the following are the smallest and most suitable for this purpose. All are easy to grow in dry soil and full sun.

S. brevifolium is one of the smallest species, with tightly packed green and red leaves and white flowers. June and July. 1 in.

S. dasyphyllum, a rare native, somewhat resembles the last, but with fatter leaves, blue-grey in colour. The flowers are white flushed with pink. June and July. 2 in.

S. Ewersii homophyllum (syn. S. E. Hayesii) is a deciduous species with pale blue-grey leaves on trailing stems, and bright pink flowers. July and August. 3 in.

S. hispanicum has grey-green leaves shaded pink, and white flowers with black anthers. June and July. 2 in.

S. Nevii has grey-green rosettes, sometimes flushed with orange, and white starry flowers. June and July. 3 in.

S. pilosum, one of the most attractive, unfortunately dies after flowering, but is easily raised from seed, which it sets freely. It makes neat hummocks of green, hairy rosettes, studded with waxy pink flowers. May and June. 3 in.

S. spathulijolium has rosettes of fleshy grey leaves with yellow flowers borne on pink stems. Its variety capa-blanca is smaller and neater, and in the variety purpureum the leaves are reddish purple. June and July. 2 to 3 in.


Much the same remarks apply to the house leeks as to the sedums. Both belong to the same natural order, Crassulaceae, and as they appreciate similar conditions, they may be grown together in the same trough. There are many hundreds of species and hybrids, most of which bear their flowers on stems which are too tall to be in scale with the miniature garden. The following are some of the dwarfer species.

S. Allionii has pale green rosettes, which have been likened to a water-lily, and greenish-white flowers. June and July. 1 in.

S. arachnoideum has small green rosettes, the tips of which are covered with silky threads resembling cobwebs. There are many varieties in cultivation, of which Stans-fieldii has the merit of turning crimson in summer. The flowers are rose-pink. June and July. 3 in.

S. arenarium has small reddish-green globular rosettes and creamy flowers. June and July. 3 in.

S. hirtum resembles the last, but on a slightly larger scale and with flatter rosettes and yellowish flowers. June and July. 4 in.


This is a charming little alpine plant, easy to grow in any light, gritty soil, but unfortunately rather shy of producing its flowers in our gardens.

S. acaulis makes neat little green domes studded with almost stemless pink flowers. There are several forms, of which S. a. elongata and S. a. exscapa are said to flower more freely than the type. S. a. alba has white flowers instead of pink. May and June. 2 in.


These very beautiful little alpine plants share with the last-named an unaccountable coyness in flowering under garden conditions. Nevertheless, they are well worth trying in a trough or pan, where they can at least be protected from their two chief enemies, the slug and winter rain, and when they do produce their flowers the reward is great. There are six species in the genus, of which the three listed below are the smallest. S. montana, although the easiest to flower, has been omitted from the list as it is rather too large for the average miniature garden, but where space and height are not important considerations this species would be my first choice. They enjoy the same conditions as Kabschia saxifrages (q.v.), and should be protected by glass during the winter.

* S. alpina forms prostrate mats of round, leathery green leaves, above which the fringed bells of lavender-blue, freckled on the inside with crimson, are borne on 3-in. Stems. March and April. 3 in.

* S. minima is similar in appearance, but on a smaller scale and with narrower bells. March and April. 2 in.

* S. pusilla stands half-way between the two in size, and may be distinguished from them by its leaves, which are kidney-shaped rather than round. March and April. 2 to 3 in.


Thlaspi is a small genus of which only three or four species are in cultivation, and only one of these is commonly offered in the alpine catalogues. They enjoy a limy, gritty soil, in full sun, with plenty of water during the summer, but even under the best conditions they are not long-lived plants. They have the merit, uncommon in alpines, of bearing scented flowers.

T. limosellifolium is rare, but easier to grow than the others. It has spoon-shaped leaves of bright green and bears rosy lilac flowers. May. 3 in.

T. rotundifolium is the species usually offered by nurserymen, and forms mats of dark grey-green rosettes with lavender flowers borne in clusters. May. 2 in.

T. stylosum (syn. Noccaea stylosa) has smaller leaves of grey-green and rosy lilac flowers. It likes a shadier position than the other two, and blooms earlier in the season. February and March. 2 in. Veronica Most of the veronicas are either too tall or too invasive for the miniature garden, but the under-mentioned are admissible, and a few of the New Zealand species will be found in the section dealing with dwarf shrubs. A light, gritty soil or scree mixture suits them best. T V. bombycina makes neat tufts of white, woolly leaves, with pale blue flowers. June. 3 in.

** V. caespitosa is smaller, with ash-grey foliage and large pink flowers. May and June. 2 in.

* V. telephiifolia makes prostrate mats of blue-grey leaves, closely resembling those of Eunomia oppositifolia. The pale blue flowers are borne in sprays on short stems. July. 2 to 3 in.


The violas are delightful plants for the open spaces of the large rock garden, where they can, and do, seed themselves with the greatest profusion among the other plants of the alpine meadow. Planted as single specimens in the sink or trough, they lose much of their attraction, but as no list of miniature plants could be considered complete without them, a representative selection of the smaller species is given below. Although quite easy to grow in any light soil, preferably in a position where they do not become too parched, most of them have only short lives. To make up for this they generally leave behind them self-grown seedlings, which, where the miniature garden is concerned, may even be something of a nuisance.

V. aetolica saxatilis is a neat little pansy with a yellow face, usually little more than a biennial. Summer. 2 in.

V. blanda bears small white violets which are sweetly scented. Spring. 2 in.

V. bosniaca (syn. V. declinata) is an attractive species with flowers of an unusual shade of rosy lilac, but for some reason is seldom listed in catalogues. Summer. 2 to 3 in.

V. labradorica purpurea has small mauve flowers and purple foliage, and should be grown in a shady position. Summer. 3 in.

V. olympica is a small purple pansy. June. 3 in.

V. yakusimanii, a comparative new-comer to the garden, is the smallest of all, with minute leaves and white flowers streaked with mauve. May and June. 1 in.


To end the list we have two plants of considerable attraction, one or both of which are sometimes to be found listed under Edraianthus. They do best in a light, gritty soil with a generous ration of limestone chippings or crushed mortar rubble.

W. pumilio forms a neat, spiny tuffet of silvery-grey leaves, which in June becomes covered with stemless, upturned bells of lavender blue. June. 2 to 3 in.

W. serpyllifolia, though equally lovely in its way, is a more straggling plant, and therefore less suited than the last to the smaller miniature garden. It makes prostrate mats of small dark green leaves and bears deep purple bells, which unfortunately last for no more than a week or two. May and June. 2 to 3 in.

02. May 2017 by admin
Categories: Alpines, Featured Articles, Plants | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dwarf Perennials for the Miniature Garden


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