That Pesky Driveway Strip and Hot Sidewalk – Solving Landscaping Problems With Alpine Perennials

Gardeners who grow perennials in climates where water is scarce and sunlight is plentiful often have one perplexing difficulty when they are designing their landscapes: What perennials will grow in hot, dry, drought-stressed areas of a yard such as a strip next to a cement walk or along a driveway? The answer I always give: look for and plant Alpine Perennials!

Alpines are invaluable in these sun-stressed areas of a yard. Alpine perennials naturally grow to shorter heights and thrive on the lime or alkaline in cement. A curved, colorful border of alpine perennials will change up your yard. Rather than being a repeat of the neighbors’ cookie-cutter type driveway, you’ll have a border that will draw attention and maybe even inspire everyone else on the street to imitate you. Alpines grow in different ways. Because of unique growing conditions, many Alpines have evolved to spread and mound. Spreading Alpines can be found to enhance every space and every season. The varieties listed below will keep any front yard attractive and colorful!


The Rockcresses are fine spreaders. These include aubrieta, arabis and basket-of-gold.

alpine perennial rock cress aubrieta
Rockcress or aubrieta.

Spreading alpine perennials grow in a variety of textures and colors. They get wider as they mature due to their underground root system. Artemisia silver brocade and cerastium snow-in-summer are examples of silver foliage spreaders. Spreading perennials bloom in every season: creeping phlox in spring, short veronicas in summer,  and sedums and winecups are glorious in fall.

Mat or Flat-Growing Alpines

alpine perennials delosperma
Delosperma or Yellow Ice Plant

Mat growing perennials carpet and creep to cover the ground. These carpeting alpines are carefree and have winter evergreen tendencies that slow down melting snow problems so soil won’t wash out. Delosperma or yellow ice plant is a succulent spreader that creates a flat carpet as it grows.

Alpines with Stems or Tufts

alpine perennials pulsatilla

Alpines with stems and tuft shapes add a different texture to the garden. The stems of spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils and tulips are well-recognized examples of tufting alpines. I recommend an Alpine like pulsatilla in rock gardens or borders because the stems and tufts of this delightful perennial break up the carpeting and spreading alpines. This relieves the monotonous feeling you would get if the texture of all of your Alpine perennials is too similar. Other alpine perennials with tufts are Armeria or thrift, short blue festuca grass and alpine poppies.

Mounding Alpines

alpine perennials artemisia
Artemisia or Silver Mound

The most prevalent shape of alpines form a mound giving gardeners a huge choice of plants. Mounding alpines give gardens a natural looking appearance.

Artisimia, ‘Silver Mound” is an example of an alpine mounding perennial.  ‘Silver Mound’ adds an all-season soft, feathery, silvery ball shape to a sunny walkway or garden. Other mounding perennials are the short asters ‘Wood Series,’ dianthus, euphorbia polychroma and many of the short sedums like ‘Zenox’.

Alpines with Leaf Arrangements called Rosettes

Rosettes are alpines that develop from a center and fan outwards as they mature.

alpine perennials hens and chicks
Hens and Chicks

Notice the intricate leaf forming rosettes of the hens-and-chicks. It’s rare when these Mother rosettes bloom but sad, for the Mother hen will die after blooming. Other rosette growing alpines are linium or flax and silene or campion.

Alpines that grow as Sub-shrubs

Potentilla - alpine perennial landscaping

Sub-shrubs are small, woody shrubs that are really perennials. Iberis or candytuft is a good example of a sub-shrub and so is potentilla.

Potentilla’s woody stems are tough and so are its roots so it is successfully grown in high mountain rock gardens and to soften the hardscape of cement drives. Lavender, Helianthemum or rock rose and Dictamnus or gas plant are also fine sub-shrubs that look superb in alpine gardens.

Any gardener will appreciate the variety of shapes and sizes offered by alpine perennials. They are so carefree and versatile that their hardiness is simply assumed. A high mountain gardener just may find that alpines are their favorite perennials.

Alpine Perennials – More Inspiration

Heryz suzo has compiled a video that showcases plants and alpine perennials in a variety of rock gardens, sidewalk borders, and xeriscaping examples. Perhaps these photos will help give you some additional inspiration for creating a beautiful Alpine Garden in that hot, dry strip next to your own driveway or sidewalk!

Heryz suzo

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