Alpines are for gardeners who are thinking 'fairy' small

Fairy gardens are all the rage. For the uninitiated, fairy gardens are miniature landscapes and scenes using small plants and doll house-style furniture and props, and don't forget the fairies. They can be constructed in the landscape or in a container and appeal to many who would not be gardening in another form.

Arrowhead Alpines nursery is taking full advantage of this trend, says Joseph Tychonievich, nursery manager for the Fowlerville, Mich., mail-order operation, which has been around for about 20 years. It specializes in small plants perfect for these gardens.

Garden & Landscape Symposium

Where: Shady Side Academy's Hillman Center for the Performing Arts, Fox Chapel.

When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 20.

Presented by: Penn State Extension, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and Shady Side Academy.

Tickets: $115, includes breakfast and lunch. Register by calling Phipps at 412-441-4442.

Marketplace: A Garden Marketplace will be held in conjunction with the symposium. The marketplace will feature unusual, hard-to-find perennials and annuals, shrubs, heirloom vegetable plants, botanical art and photography, and garden accessories. Hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and it is free and open to the public.

The Ohio native, one of several experts speaking at the Garden & Landscape Symposium being held next Saturday at Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel, will discuss "Miniature/Rock Garden Plants for Container Gardens." He'll also be speaking the day after the event at a North American Rock Garden Society meeting at the National Aviary on the North Side. The subject of that lecture is "Small Is Beautiful: Great, Growable Rock Garden Plants." The meeting is open to the public and begins at 2 p.m.

"(When) people get started (in fairy gardens), it's almost about the props. But once they see the plants they get hooked on it. It's like a gateway drug for rock gardening," he says with a laugh.

Rock garden plants, or alpine plants, by definition, are native to high elevations, in many cases above the tree line. Some are diminutive. Most are cold-hardy but intolerant of wet feet. Arrowhead sells a diverse selection ranging from conifers to broadleaf evergreens and deciduous shrubs right down to perennials. They sell plants only, no props.

Mr. Tychonievich says this form of gardening isn't much different than any other type; it's just on a smaller scale.

"Thinking in terms of miniature landscapes, combine colors and textures the way you would in a regular garden," says Mr. Tychonievich. "The only technical thing you need to remember is good drainage."

"Start with the pinks (dianthus) that aren't going to need a super-specific soil condition and cool summers. A lot of these plants are not true alpines. You can grow them without fussing," he says. "Armeria, sempervivums, they are beautiful and so easy. I really like the alpine primrose. They are really beautiful and with sun have been pretty easy for me."

"The nice thing is because they are small and they ship well and pretty inexpensively, they are well suited to mail order."

Arrowhead no longer has a paper catalog, but those interested in purchasing plants can access the catalog at

"Just dive in and get some cool plants," he says.

If you want immediate gratification, Mr. Tychonievich will be bringing in a selection of plants for sale during his visit here.

mobilehome - garden

First Published April 13, 2013 4:00 AM


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