Alpines are an understated group of plants that have enjoyed something of a comeback over the last few years.

They are hardy, easy to grow, low maintenance and have some of the most beautiful flowers – an unexpected pleasant surprise from a group of plants that inhabit some very inhospitable places.

In the wild, alpines grow at high altitude on rocky mountains in shallow or poor soil. They have no trouble with cold, harsh winters but standing in wet soil will be the death of them so for this reason good drainage is essential in cultivation.

Growing them in containers or troughs (even old Belfast sinks are popular) are a great way of creating your own mini rock garden and make it easy to control the growing conditions.

Make sure that whatever container you choose has plenty of drainage holes and if there aren’t enough, drill more.

Site your container in an open, sunny spot and position on a plinth of sorts (pot feet or even a couple of house bricks will do) to keep the drainage holes open and clear.

Place a few crocks (broken pieces of clay flower pot) over the drainage holes and then add a layer of coarse drainage material such as gravel, about an inch thick, to cover the crocks.

Next you want to add a layer of chunky material (about an inch again is good) such as bark chips or turf, grass side down, to keep the soil above from falling through the cracks in the gravel and draining through the holes.

Then comes the compost. A loam based compost like John Innes No 3 mixed with horticultural grit is ideal (70:30 mix).

Leave a gap of about an inch at the top of the container to allow a gravel mulch once the plants are in position.

When it comes to the planting, there are many to choose from. If you’re a beginner, try a few of these easy to grow species to get you started. Sempervivums (or house leeks) are low maintenance succulents that come in a range of colours.

To fill the cracks or over hang the trough, Aubrieta produces masses of purple flowers in spring and for something a little more upright, Pulsatilla (recently reclassified as anemones) or pasque flowers have delicate silvery, hairy stems and leaves and bell shaped flowers.

Lewisia is a gorgeous little alpine with star shaped flowers in pink and peachy tones from late spring to early summer and for something a little different, Gentiana forms a dense mat of foliage and deep blue flowers.

To finish, a few well placed rocks will give your mini rock garden a natural feel.

Also, many alpines benefit from having cool feet (roots in the shade) and this can be created on a small scale with the addition of a few rocks.

A gravel mulch on the surface of the compost around the plants will give a natural finish while also retaining soil moisture.

The only downside is that creating mini landscapes can become addictive and you may find you’ll struggle to stop with just one trough! Your garden could turn into mini Switzerland in a few years!