This will make my friend Guy laugh. He once estimated that I would harvest 1 million strawberries per summer based on the number of plants I had throughout the garden. Seven years ago when we started the garden from scratch, I was searching for a suitable plant to edge the many beds and borders I had created. Budget-wise it was a bit overwhelming. Then I had a bright idea. I had purchased 6 strawberry plants from the local nursery almost the minute we moved in and that first autumn they sent out runners everywhere so I snipped them all off and replanted them along the edges. Soon the new plants sent out runners which were transplanted and so on, and before I knew it there were (literally) thousands of strawberries woven through the garden. Inexperienced then in the ‘really large garden’ metier, I soon discovered this pretty and productive edging wasn’t as co-operative as I had thought. The strawberries invaded everywhere and one really wet summer they took off … it was like The Day of the Triffids! They threaded themselves through the roses, into the shrubberies, all over the vegetable garden, spilled over banks and out onto pathways. It was a disaster. There was so much fruit the birds even stopped eating them! So out they came. Weekend after weekend I hauled plants out. But not before we’d enjoyed a series of summers of buckets and bowls of fresh, delicious fruit which was turned into jams and sauces … but mainly daiquiris! The variety I had started with was an old favourite, Red Gauntlet. Not popular with commercial growers these days as they are prone to little bumps and imperfections, but to me they are still one of the most delicious. I’ve tried over twelve other varieties and none are as hardy and fulsome in flavour, especially for jam.
It’s really easy to increase your crop by pinning down the runners in the position you want them and a new plant quickly forms. Strawberries are only really good for two years, so plant the runners in the alternate rows and let them grow up and remove the old row every second or third year. They are hungry feeders so add a good organic fertiliser and mulch well, laying clean straw under the plants so the strawberries don’t get muddy and rot in the wet.
We have some lovely pink flowering strawberries in stock at The Potting Shed (sorry, can’t remember the variety) and they are sending out runners all over the place, so for $4 you actually get about 6 or 8 plants! And the pink flowers are really lovely for a change. We also have in stock really substantial plants of Alchemilla mollis which is now my main edging plant, thanks to advice from my friend and expert gardener, Wendy Butcher from the amazingly beautiful ‘Orchard Garden’ in Central Otago, New Zealand. Who couldn’t believe I was using strawberries. “Haven’t you heard of Lady’s Mantle?” she asked, in disbelief. “It’s the perfect edging plant”
It is a beautiful plant and surprisingly hardy, even through this fierce summer she has held up wonderfully but definitely prefers a little bit of dappled shade. Alchemilla mollis, Lady’s Mantle, is an herbaceous perennial plant native to southern Europe and grown throughout the world as an ornamental garden plant. More on her another day.