Friday 17 November 2017

Lady's mantle settles softly over the garden

Lady's Mantle
Lady's Mantle

Gerry Daly

Lady's mantle is not a star plant, it is a minor member of the cast of garden plants. Yet, it can make the stars look good. Its common name is descriptive. Its flowers are individually tiny but carried in hundreds on wiry branching stems. The overall effect is gauzy, quite like the effect of a lace mantle. Its botanical name is alchemilla.

The plant comes into leaf early in spring and the new leaves are quickly followed by the flowers. The leaves are rounded, about a hand-span across and shallowly lobed at the edge, giving them quite a geometric appearance. The leaves are covered with soft hairs which protect the new leaves in spring. The slightly ribbed shape of the leaves directs rainwater down to the centre of the leaf and then down the stems to the roots.

After rain, especially a misty spell, a large drop of water can be held in suspension at the centre of the leaf by the soft hairs, and if the sun is shining on it, the water drop can sparkle like a diamond. This a unique and attractive feature of lady's mantle.

The flower shoots are produced over a long period of time. These are of an attractive yellow-green shade. This is a lively colour for early and mid-summer and combines very well with many fine plants. For instance, it sets off Oriental poppies to perfection as most of them are bright orange red.

Alchemilla green looks great with the blue or violet flowers of iris and is superb with the velvety dark-red or pink of peonies. It is tremendous with the smoky blue of nepeta and the silver of lamb's ear and looks really well with geraniums - its limy green making a great contrast with the pink, magenta and blue of hardy geraniums. When roses start to flower in early summer, it is a perfect foil, both its leaves and flowers.

Being a leafy plant, lady's mantle is a good ground-cover plant, ideal for filling in between shrubs, roses and flowers in a mixed border. It is also much used as an edging plant, good along the front of a border. It is a very easy plant to grow, doing well in any ordinary soil and coping well with dry conditions. It self-sows freely, which is fine, but can become a nuisance. To avoid that happening, the flowers and leaves can be cut off in late July or August and a new tighter crop of leaves will be produced. These wither in winter if it is cold, remaining green longer in a mild year.

Apart from the normal-sized alchemilla, which can reach knee-high when fully grown, there is also a smaller form called alpine lady's mantle. The flowers are smaller, not as gauzy and tighter.

Sunday Independent

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