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Alchemilla mollis 'Lady's Mantle'

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Alchemilla are perennials with palmately lobed basal leaves and sprays of tiny, yellow or greenish flowers A. mollis is an herbaceous perennial forming a clump of softly hairy, light green leaves with scalloped and toothed edges. Small, bright yellow flowers are borne in large sprays just above the foliage. Often seeds freely.

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      15.11.2012 16:33
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      Can transform itself from the unobtrusive to the spectacular.

      Although I'm slowly revamping my garden from cottage style to one more easily maintained with mainly shrubs and bulbs, I'm under planting some of the shrubs with easy perennials and one perennial that is an essential in my garden is alchemilla mollis, otherwise known as Lady's Mantle. Although at first glance this is a fairly nondescript garden plant, on closer acquaintance, I'm sure you'll agree with me that it has a lot going for it. The common name Lady's Mantle refers to the leaf shape which is vaguely cloaklike in shape and which is officially named as palmate meaning that they resemble miniatures of the huge palm leaves you see slaves using to keep the pharaohs cool in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings. The soft and hairy mid-green leaves aren't huge, probably only 2 or 3 inches across, but they're beautifully architectural being a sort of scallop shape with a hint of pleating down the leaves, all of which makes this plant a great favourite for flower arrangers. The plant has a herbal tradition and often features in herbal remedies, most commonly to be taken as a tea to relieve menstrual cramps or as an antiseptic for cuts and scrapes. I'm not sure how effective it would be for either of those uses and though I'm all for natural remedies, I'm not sure I'd recommend using this. Try asprin instead. Alchemilla mollis isn't a huge plant and even when fully mature it only stands about 12 to 18 inches high and has a similar spread. For most of the year the plant sits quietly and unobtrusively except for those occasions when it rains. Because the leaves are hairy it causes the raindrops to cling onto the leaves and the sight of lots of little diamond droplets of rain shimmering on the leaf surfaces is a joy to behold and turns the plant from the unobtrusive to the spectacular, especially if the sun shines. The other occasion when the plant becomes more noticeable is when it flowers. The flowers aren't stunningly beautiful, it has to be said, but the limey/yellowish green sprays stand above the leaves on longish stalks and completely transform it by adding a yellowy green frothy topping to the plant. These flowers, just like the leaves, are often used in floral arrangements. Alchemilla mollis is a very obliging plant which grows equally well in sun or semi-shade and doesn't care about the aspect either. North, south, east, west, makes absolutely no difference to how it performs, making this a great plant to fill in those bare areas in any part of the garden. It isn't fussy about the soil condition and will happily grow in any growing medium from the finest loam to the stickiest clay and anything in between. Like most plants, it likes a drop of water from time to time but is also one of the more drought tolerant perennials and though the leaves may droop through lack of water, they soon perk up again with the rain. The new leaves become noticeable fairly early on in the spring and provide interest right through the summer and autumn until hard frosts turn the leaves brown. These old leaves need to be cut right back to allow the new leaves to come through. Although in really hard winters the plant won't immediately regenerate until the following spring, in milder winters it often stays green right through. As you would expect from such an obliging plant, it doesn't have problems with either diseases or pests and its leaves stay green and unnibbled right through the growing season. Alchemilla mollia isn't totally perfect and it does have one major drawback. It seeds itself everywhere and unless the little seedlings are dug up fairly quickly you'll find it's taken over not just the soil but that it's popping up in the lawn, pathways and gravelled areas as well. It's also not averse to seeding itself in little nooks and crannies where it's almost impossible to get it out unless you're prepared to resort to chemicals. To prevent total takeover, it's best to cut the flowering sprays off before they turn brown and drop their seed and as long as you remember to do this, it shouldn't prove too problematical. Being such a great self-seeder, you shouldn't need to propagate from seed as it's easy enough to dig up little plantlets and pot on. Just another point in this excellent little plant's favour. To my mind no garden is complete without at least a couple of clumps of alchemilla mollis. It's a great garden all-rounder, easy to grow and maintain and for such a commonly grown and seen plant it's got enough going for it to put it out of the common way if you know what I mean. Alchemilla mollis isn't rare so is easily found in most garden centres and online and small plants can be bought for around £1 in markets and carboot fairs. For more established plants expect to pay something like £4 in a garden centre. For such a small outlay, this plant will reward you year after year.

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