High Altitude Gardening

A few articles ago I discussed the importance of choosing the correct types of plants for garden on steep slopes. Plants that will stabilize and hold the soil. The topic in this article is one of similar importance, the plants that we can use in gardens in high altitude areas. If you are living in such an area, you may have probably realized by now that there are some, more delicate plants that just will not survive, usually because of the three reasons; exposure to wind, the low temperatures in winter and poor soils. However, it is very strange but you may think that high altitude plants will grow anywhere in high altitude places? But there may be particular plants that grow in particular Mediterranean places country that cannot grow in other areas. If in doubt, a rule of thumb, is to try to take some time to simply stand in your garden. Try to simply look at the surrounding vegetation and trees and if you can see a view of the surrounding countryside try to study the types of trees and shrubs that are growing happily in this immediate vicinity.

First of all you should see quite a few indigenous plants such as the Ceratonia siliqua, commonly known as the carob tree, St John’s-bread, or locust bean – it is a species of flowering evergreen shrub or tree in the pea family, Fabaceae. It is widely cultivated for its edible pods, and as an ornamental tree in gardens. Or the Pistacia atlantic – a tree of the genus Pistacia. It is a member of the same genus as pistachio, terebinth, and mastic. The Pistacia genus ranges from shrubs to trees adapted to drought and the Mediterranean climate

or even the wonderful ancient old Olive trees, Olea europaea. If you can see these types of trees in high altitude then you can probably be sure that a lot of more delicate plants will not survive in your garden. The indigenous plants are usually considered to be very hardy and can usually tolerate any type of climatic conditions and poor soils. The main reason for avoiding the more delicate plants is due, usually to the very low temperatures in the winter months in the mediterranean climates. The temperatures can drop considerably sometimes reaching to frosts or snow conditions. We are therefore limited to the types of plants that we can plant in our gardens and that will tolerate these cold conditions, but, to be on the safe side, it is better to use more hardy evergreen shrubs and trees, ones that will tolerate these cold climatic conditions. However, if you are living in the a place such as the UK then the temperature range can be even more dramatic and you will want to consider more frost and snow conditions, even now more high rainfall conditions. And if you are living in say, America, you will again want to consider what temperatures your particular state gets to in the winter months. In all countries always consider the winter months and get a feel of how severe your winter temperatures are. If they are mild, choose plants such as perennials, if they have frost, choose plants such as hardy shrubs and even you can try growing fruit trees and vegetables that will do well with frost conditions but with less rainfall consider planting such fruit trees as; rhubarb, blackberries, apples, and vegetables such as; broad beans, carrots. Always first consider the climatic conditions that routinely affect your area. And as you will come to realise there is a whole lot of difference in temperature in every single country and state all over the world and so these conditions must be considered before planting any new plants in your garden, especially in high altitude gardening.

Here are a few plants that should do very well in high altitude Mediterranean gardens. One of my favourite evergreen plants is a tree that can be used for cooking, the pepper tree, sometimes called Artimathkia or the Latin Schinus molle. It bears these lovely small red berries in August or September, which when dried can be crushed and used in your pepper mills. Also the leaves of the pepper tree can be crushed in your hand and rubbed on your skin to prevent mosquitoes, (what a tree!). The other great advantage of this tree is that it has lovely pendula branches so once it matures it looks a little like the shape of the weeping willow. Another evergreen tree, ideal for high altitude conditions is the tall Cyprus conifer or Italian conifer, Cupressus sempervirens. If you have ever been to Italy you will have seen these dotted around the countryside, they are extremely dominant, with their tall, pencil-thin evergreen foliage, and placed accurately in a garden design, they can really give you a perfect architectural display. Staying on the theme of conifers, there are quite a few selections of lovely dwarf conifers that are perfect for high altitude gardens such as the lovely spreading Juniperus horizontalis with its grey/blue foliage and Pinus Mugo nana, its bold needle-type leaves are perfect for a dominant splash of green foliage. Also try Thuja aurea nana and Juniperus stricta mixed with a lovely selection of dwarf and tall grasses such as Festuca glauca, Ophiopogon, Bambusa nana aurea, Miscanthus zebrinus, Penesetum rubra and Cyperus alternifolius and other Cyperus species, all will give a perfect permanent bold evergreen colour, even in the dullest of winter months. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that these high altitude gardens still need to have some colour in order to contrast and brighten up those more stable evergreen plants. Lavenders are perfect because they are very hardy plants and they continue to flower month after month. There are now quite a few different varieties of lavenders these days, such as new varieties of Lavender stoechas, the french lavender, ideal because each variety will flower at different times of the year. And a lovely climber called Sandevilla, which is in the same family as the Mandevilla – it has lovely smaller glossy evergreen leaves and a very strong trumpet bright-red flowers. Be aware that Sandevilla Red Mandevilla typically needs a fair amount of maintenance and care in order to grow successfully. Ensure that you are aware of the soil, sun, ph and water requirements for this plant and keep an eye out for pests. Pay attention to weeding, feed and pruning schedules to ensure your plant remains in peak condition.

Another climber that will do well in high altitudes is the Pandorea jasminoides, commonly known as Bower of Beauty, Bower Vine or Bower Climber is an evergreen, vigorous woody climber, and member of the Bignoniaceae family, it also has smaller trumpet shaped pale pink/mauve flowers but it is very strong and will grow in poor soils and cold exposed conditions. Last but not least, try planting an evergreen shrub called Tecomaria capensis, it will survive in high altitude areas because it is a hardy evergreen shrub, one that can be used to disguise a wall as it can be classed as semi climber, you cannot mistake this plant with its dark glossy green leaves and a vibrant orange/red, pea or trumpet shaped flower. Tecomaria capensis, commonly called Cape honeysuckle is a species of flowering plant in the family Bignoniaceae, native to southern Africa and despite it’s common name it is not closely related to the true honeysuckle

My favourite hardy evergreen low growing shrub has to be the Rosmarinus corsicus ‘Prostratus’ or Rosmarinus officinalis lavandulaceus. The reason why I love this shrub so much is that it grows very well in any conditions in high mediterranean temperatures and all in very cold conditions – in fact in all sorts of climatic conditions – it is an extremely adaptable shrub

Need some plant advice? For more details, pest and disease advice or plant ideas for your own individual garden conditions – please contact me on the home page or write to me at the plant diagnostic service contact home page

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