Got a sinking feeling? Alpines will lift spirits

What the butler saw... it's far, far better than washing up.
What the butler saw... it's far, far better than washing up.
Chrysanthemums bought in pots and added to the border look great in autumn.

BRIAN KIDD: Mum’s the word for an added splash of autumn fire in borders

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Take a look at your garden – does it look interesting in winter? What about using an old stone sink to create a little garden especially for alpine plants?

Real stone sinks are expensive, but you may be able to find an old butler sink to make interesting with real alpines.

To disguise the fact that it’s a sink, the exterior can be coated with a mixture of hypertufa using one part each of cement powder, fine peat and sharp sand mixed with water. Apply this to the outside and the rim of the sink. It will stick. Be patient and try to attain a natural effect, not a smooth covering. It needs to look rugged.

Wear gloves and apply a thick layer of Bostik glue to smother the outside of the sink, the top of the rim and about two inches inside the rim. By this time next year it will have weathered and look like real stone.

Now place a layer of broken clay flowerpots where the hole is in the base and fill the sink with John Innes No1 compost. If 20 per cent extra sharp sand is added this is the perfect medium for alpines. Fill the sink to within an inch of the top and now you can start planting.

Find three or four interesting pieces of rock and lightly push these into the surface. Try to make it look natural.

Choose a miniature conifer such as chamaecyparis obtusa nana gracilis and plant it on one side with a piece of rock alongside. Cyclamen coum will flower in February. It has pink, red or white flowers only three inches tall and marbled leaves nearly all year. It looks great alongside edelweiss.

You will need only five alpine plants. Have a look at alpines in pots at your garden centre and ask a member of staff what will provide colour or interest all year.

Try not to use rock garden plants which are already in your garden as they may be too tall. Choose some little gems to give yourself a treat. Saxifraga, gentiana and alpine phlox, which are only a couple of inches high, look wonderful. What about house leeks and miniature violas?

The sink garden will need watering. Rain water is perfect, but feel the compost first. With the bottom drainage it will never become waterlogged.

Finally, during the autumn and after picking off dead foliage, cover the compost’s surface with white stone chippings. This looks professional and stops mud splashing new leaves and flowers in the spring.

When you visit RHS Wisley you will see wonderful sink gardens in the area alongside the alpine greenhouses near the rock garden.

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If you have still got your real Christmas tree it will need water even if it has no root.