Just a couple of pictures from our recent hike on the slopes of Mount Rainier, 1,5 hours drive south of Seattle. Not very experienced hikers of this iconic mountain in Washington state, we didn't undertake any treacherous mountain climbing expedition, but a relatively easy hike to a nearby top with amazing views of the ice-covered Rainier.
Arriving at the trail head at some 5700 feet above the sea level, we were immediately transferred from late summer back to early spring. As the first half of this summer had been the coldest on record, snow still covered the north-facing slopes, forcing us to climb over man-high mounds while tracing the constantly disappearing trail through the forests. Despite the cold, an amazing botanical variety greeted us: glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) peeked through the snow and filled the melting meadows at sunnier glades and thrifts of the American false hellebore (Veratrum viride) pushed towards the sun at the mountain sides. At the top, tiny penstemons (pink P. davidsonii and blue P. procerus) and western pasqueflowers (Anemone occidentalis) popped up from the the gravel-covered steep ground like small, delicate jewels.
I love alpine plants, but I've never been a great fan of man-made rock or alpine gardens. I find them too artificial, as they usually are awkwardly filled with boulders to simulate the extreme conditions that these tough but discriminating plants need to survive (I'm not talking here of rock gardens on natural cliffs - they can be simply stunning). To really appreciate the resilient beauty and hardiness of these tinies, they need to be seen amongst the rocks, snow and hard winds of the mountain sides where they originally grow. But that would deny access to them for many plant lovers, so I understand why botanical gardens around the world keep building their alpine gardens despite often being close to sea-level.
Phlox caespitosa; unidentified little bellis-like plant; Penstemon davisonii.
In private gardens, I seldom think it is a good idea to compose mini-Matterhorns or Mount Rainiers to grow alpines. Instead of engaging in that kind of "make-believe", growing them in stone troughs and planters mulched with small gravel is so much more beautiful and stylish, allowing easy access to the small plants by lifting them to the eye level (Vita's old troughs with alpines in Sissinghurst are an excellent example of this). As I love alpine plants, I decided adding a "Mount Rainier alpine collection" somewhere on my garden in Sweden as a reminder of these majestic slopes. There are great cliffs already, so just need to find a couple of old stone troughs to be used as a focal point...
It is impossible to create better alpine displays than these found on the slopes of Mount Rainier, but I still would love to have a couple of old stone troughs with some of these gems.