Most of the endearing photos you will see of Alchemilla mollis are of rain-splattered leaves, so you could be forgiven for thinking that the Alchemillas only flourish in wet conditions and climates.
The reality is, that the attractive lime-green foliage is a little hairy and shaped such that rain and dew drops find a comfortable home within its folds and pleats. Alchemilla mollis is the more common, but it's smaller sibling -Alchemilla erythropoda and Alchemilla alpine are also worthy growing, being slightly smaller and with brighter foliage and bright greenish yellow flowers.
Lady's Mantle - the common name of the Alchemilla - is a low growing, spreading evergreen perennial that flowers in mid spring with a cloud of bright yellow flowers. It is a clump-forming perennials, having kidney-shaped leaves with deep lobes., lobed leaves.
Alchemillas prefer a dry sunny position, but will also grow in a shaded area, which is slightly damp. Whichever, it is important that there is good drainage for they seem to resent their feet in water, and show their displeasure by dying on you!
Alchemilla are perennial, hardy, low-growing, spreading, and early flowering. Flowers are pale golden yellow - or lime-green, and other than mid-winter, when they can look a bit sad, they are a bright addition to any garden - front of border, or container. They will soon seed themselves into any crack or crevice in paved areas or gravel path.
Alchemilla are members of the Rose family. True! Its natural habitat is upland pastures and meadow - mainly in Europe or temeraate Asia areas.
Alchemilla have a well-deserved reputation for spreading or even for being invasive. I would argue that this is an advantage if they are grown in the right place. Some of the spread is as a result of the rhizomes that sprout from the base, but much is also due to the fact that they seed themselves liberally.
If the flowers are cut off as soon as fading, it will serve the purposes of tidying up the plant, allowing a second crop of flowers to develop, and prevent much of the self-seeding, for it seems that successive blooms do not turn to seed as much as the first flourish!
(As I write this, I have visions of areas being planted with Alchemilla mollis and Myosotis Forget-Me-not! (Just a thought!) What a great contrasting colours scheme for a ground cover area - relatively trouble free. (Maybe substitute Brunnera for the Myosotis)
One of the big problems with Alchemilla plants – as with many others that are a bit carefree – is that they often get neglected. All they need by way of maintenance is to clear away the untidy dead and dying leaves in the Autumn and again in the spring. As well as enhancing their appearance, it gets rid of a hiding place for slugs and snails that are a bit partial to the young foliage in spring. This also makes it easier for the winter – starved birds to sift through under the plant for the likes of vine weevil grubs!
Container and rockery grown Alchemilla – such as the smaller Alchemilla erythropoda and Alchemilla alpine – are also prone to attacks by vine weevil beetle grubs. The first symptom of vine weevil is the fact that the plant has wilted, or is decidedly loose in the ground.
When growing in pots in the nursery, there have sometimes been problems with greenfly aphids, but not really doing the plant too much harm, for the underside of the foliage is covered in soft downy hairs.
In drought conditions, it is good to water the plants well – but not too often and carefully if in heavy soil, for they do not like their roots in water.
Alchemilla rarely need feeding, but an autumn mulch of rich organic material eased in around the plant is always welcome.
Alchemilla mollis – more than the other two mentioned, is good for groundcover planting after you have first cleared the area of all perennial weeds. If you wish to have good cover, then do NOT trim the foirst batch of flowers. This will ensure that you have a good crop of seedlings to fill any gaps.
It is well suited to the front of shrub and perennial borders, and all the Alchemilla varieties are good for at least some brightness in the winter months. I have also seen Alchemilla planted in rose beds where it seems to do no harm to the roses, but provided some seasonal interest after the roses have fade, and of course before they flower in early summer.
Alchemilla mollis is also a treasure for floral arrangers, for the flowers last well after cutting, and can form a nice base for an arrangement.
Alchemilla mollis - Basically the spread is as much as you want it to be, but a single plant should give a nice mound of foliage around 30cm across in two years after planting. The height in flower will be around 60cm maximum. The foliage will generally settle in at half that height, when in active growth, but more of a ground hugger in the winter.
Alchemilla erythropoda – is a smaller version of the A. mollis, also has the same palmate foliage, but less hairy and more green than grey-green. A. erythropoda is evergreen -but sometimes semi-evergreen in winter. Ultimate size is generally around half of that attained by Alchemilla mollis. It is a better rockery plant than A. mollis nd preferable where you do not want quite so much invasiveness.
Alchemilla alpine - forms more of a mat – but over a smaller area – than both the preceding types. The leaves – though much smaller, are more attractive in being deeply lobed palmate leaves. The leaves are much more hairy on the underside that the other two, but of course you have to look for them! The flowers are looser in habit, though none to less attractive for that. Good for tub or rockery, or even as a low border edging to footpaths.
Sowing seed is the best way to get masses of plants – but sown in cool conditions and not a heated propagator – in spring.
Mature plants can be carefully divided in spring, or it may be possible to salvage a few rooted rhizomes. Pot these up and keep covered until the plant is established, then plant out.