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Fall-Blooming Anemones: Late Color for the Shade Garden

Anemone 'Robustissima' at Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania
Anemone ‘Robustissima’ at Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania

This is the time of year that our perennial department has its best selection of Japanese Anemones. After going through the misery of mid-July to the end of August, when a perennial aficionado is mainly relegated to appreciating the (very) subtle differences between hosta cultivars*, the anemones provide welcomed relief.

Borne on tall stems, the flowers wave seductively in the breeze, and remind you that autumn can be a rewarding time in the garden. If you plant them in a location with shade in the afternoon, and don’t let them dry out, then they will spread over time and make a nice planting.

Consider planting several cultivars and they may weave together to give a mixture of colors. Color-wise, they are all compatible, coming only in pure white or various shades of pink. There are only ten or twelve commonly-offered cultivars, so selection of one that is just right for you is relatively easy.

Editors Note: Regarding the pictures, the plants we have for sale are either in bud or green; not much color showing yet. Some will not bloom until next year. The identification on the pictures is a “best guess”, for the most part they were not labeled. All photos by Larry Hurley

Anemone 'Honorine Jobert' at the University of Cambridge, England
Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ at the University of Cambridge, England

Once called Anemone japonica, Anemone tomentosa, and a few other species, the various plants offered in horticulture are now considered to be hybrids of several species, and the official name for most of them is Anemone x hybrida, followed by some catchy cultivar name like ‘Honorine Jobert’. At least that is what Dr. Allan Armitage says in his book, Herbaceous Perennial Plants, and that’s good enough for me.

Anemone 'Bessingham Glow' or similar, at Hidcote Manor, England
Anemone ‘Bessingham Glow’ or similar, at Hidcote Manor, England

The foliage spends the summer in a mound about a foot tall. The flowers appear on tall stalks in late summer or fall. The taller cultivars may need staking when in flower, but that can be avoided by not growing them too well; that is, don’t over-fertilize, and let them stress a bit (wilt just a little) before watering in the dry times. This will result in shorter and stronger flower stems.

Anemone foliage, plant in bud, Harewood House, England
Anemone foliage, plant in bud, Harewood House, England

Anemones are most available for purchase from mid-summer to fall. In late fall, apply a couple of inches of mulch. This will help the plants to survive the first winter. As far as I know, they don’t seed around much. They do spread with underground stems (rhizomes) and in loose, rich, garden soil, they can be a bit of a nuisance. That said, how many of us have loose, rich, garden soil in the first place? I can tell you that at Casa Hurley, they stay pretty much in one spot.

Anemone 'Honorine Jobert' at the University of Cambridge, England
Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ at the University of Cambridge, England

Some of the cultivars that we routinely carry at Behnke Nurseries include:

• ‘Bressingham Glow’—Rose-red, semi-double flowers. This is a shorter cultivar, blooming on 2 to 3 foot stems.
• ‘Honorine Jobert’–a white flowered anemone which was discovered as a sport of a pink plant in 1858. (In the plant world, a sport is a genetic mutation.) The height is 3 to 4 feet when in flower.
• ‘Pamina’—rose-colored, semi-double flowers on 3 to 4 foot stems.
• ‘Robustissima’—mauve pink, probably the most vigorous of all of the Japanese anemones. The one most likely to spread. 3 feet in height in flower.
• ‘September Charm’—with many pink flowers that are light on the inside and darker on the outside of the petals. Three feet tall.
• ‘Whirlwind’—semi-double large white flowers, on 4 to 5 foot stems.

We will have a good selection for the next several weeks (September), so stop in and take a look. Some are in bud, some are merely foliage and will bloom next year. It will give you something to look forward to next summer.

*[A cultivar is a cultivated variety, an example being ‘Golden Delicious’ apples. A variety is a variation in a species of plant that occurs in nature. It’s different from the species but not enough to be considered a new species; maybe the leaves are a different shape or something. A cultivated variety is the result of some sort of horticultural hanky-panky, such as taking cuttings. This is to keep all of the offspring identical. They all come from one original unique plant that someone found somewhere or bred, named as a cultivar, and propagated. ]

by Larry Hurley, Perennial Plant Specialist

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

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