I first laid eyes on it when a relative brought a small clump of it home. It was a gift to her from a gardener friend at Bergianska Trädgården – the botanical institution at the Stockholm University in Sweden – and she gingerly gave it an honorary spot in her garden. I remember being thoroughly impressed with the caliber of her connections, but even more so I was completely floored by this dainty little plant. It was absolutely adorable, and until then I had never seen anything like it!
It is native to arctic and mountainous areas of Europe, and has medicinal properties in that its leaves can be used to heal cuts and external injuries. It’s name – Alchemilla alpina – will give you an indication of what kind of growing conditions it prefers, but I wouldn’t let whatever images conjure up in your mind deter you. I have found that this unassuming little work horse does well – and even multiplies – in even the most adverse conditions, like dry shade, or packed, relatively clayey soils. It even selfseeds and thrives in both the sunny and shady part of my hellstrip! The individual plants never mat together, so it is very easy to transplant and start a new swath wherever you desire. Or to dig up a start for a friend, or two.
The Alchemilla part of its name, I just learned, has some interesting origins. Per Wikipedia: “…is especially valued for the leaves in wet weather, as the water beads and sparkles on the leaves. This is due to the remarkable dewetting properties of the leaves, whereby the contact force between the water and the leaf is so disfavoured that a thin layer of air penetrates the solid-liquid interface. These beads of water were considered by alchemists to be the purest form of water. They utilised this water in their quest to turn base metal into gold. Hence the name Alchemilla.”
Soon after I had first seen this hairy little marvel, we moved to Oregon. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled over a few pots of them during a leisurely stroll through the plant section of our local grocery store. Seriously, never underestimate the delightful surprises you might get at Fred Meyers when the timing is right! Giddy with excitement, I bought whatever they had left, which I think was around five. Now, several years later, they have grown into low, soft, lovely swaths of reliable silvery green, which increase as the years go by. It only gets to be a few inches tall – maybe 4-6″ in decent light – and its chartreuse flowers give away its genetic association with its much larger cousin Alchemilla mollis. Both also possess that unique way of collecting dew and raindrops. But when pitted against each other in a face to face beauty contest, alpina wins hands down – at least to my sensibilities! It has exquisite, bright green, divided leaves with an elegant silver outline. When you turn the leaves over, you see that the underside is endearingly covered in a silvery coat of hair – true to its arctic origins. This is a very pettable plant, and it has worked its way into my heart to such a degree that I consider it one of my top ten! As such, it will have to suffice for Foliage Follow-up Day for the month of July. Head over to Pam at Digging for a peek at what she and other foliage enthusiasts have growing in their gardens. Happy Foliage Day!