Many members of this plant family are rather ephemeral in nature while others bloom for extended periods of time, but their inherent beauty is never in dispute. They can be found gracing our gardens from early spring right through to the hard frosts, and the colour range they impart is second to none. Today I am going to walk you through the fascinating world of Anemones and I will be including the Easter-favorite, Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris), as it is closely related and used to be a member of this genus.
So, let’s start with the Pasqueflower (Pasque being the old-fashioned French term for Easter) or as it is often referred to in Canada, Prairie Crocus. The species, Pulsatilla vulgaris (formerly Anemone pulsatilla), is a member of the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) and native to much of Europe. As the common name refers to, it blooms in and around Easter (early to mid spring) with initially nodding blooms that open up to cup-shaped flowers that can be single, fringed or double (‘Papageno’) in form. The colour range is quite impressive, from snow white and shell pink (‘Pearl Bells’), right down to deep purple and rich burgundy (‘Red Bells’), although the traditional hue is a pale lavender. These unfurl just as the finely cut pale green foliage emerges and are often followed by silvery seedheads that gleam in the sun. Pulsatilla vulgaris are a good choice for alpine or rock gardens as they are quite hardy (Zone 4) and prefer a full sun exposure with good drainage, but expect them to go summer dormant when the rains diminish. There are several other species of note, including the purple-flowered Pulsatilla montana and our native P. occidentalis, whose white blooms and silky seedheads can be admired on many of Whistler’s alpine trails.
Next on our tour are the shade-loving Woodland Anemones, which include Anemone nemerosa and A. ranunculoides, as well as a hybrid of the two known as Anemone x lipsiensis. These Zone 5 hardy perennials are also native to Europe but have naturalized in many parts of the world, so be forewarned about their spreading nature. That said, they make a great understory groundcover naturalized under deciduous trees or used in an open shade garden, where they will grow 6-8” tall on average. Since they go summer dormant, they are often out of the way after flowering (April-May) and they very much take care of themselves. Expect delicate pure white blooms, some with anemone form (‘Vestal’) or even pale blue daisies (‘Allenii’) above a carpet of finely cut green foliage. Anemone ranunculoides has much the same habit but with bright yellow single to semi-double blooms (‘Pleniflora’), while the hybrid A. x lipsiensis bears pale yellow flowers. All of these are rather difficult to source right now, but if you have a friend with them growing in their garden, ask for a clump in late summer, as the rhizomatous roots are easily divided then and are guaranteed to take.
Grecian Windflower or Anemone blanda (Zone 4) are the full sun version of the woodlanders we have just discussed, forming dense carpets smothered by either blue (‘Blue Star’) or white (‘White Splendour’) daisies, although pink forms are occasionally available. Summer dormancy should also be expected. These are generally planted from corms in the fall (same time as Tulips and Daffodils). While the hard little dark corms hardly resemble a bulb, these can be soaked in tepid water 4-6 hours to aid with sprouting and be planted 2” deep by 3” apart. Don’t worry about which side is up, because they will orient themselves.
Perhaps the showiest and most difficult-to-grow member of this family is Anemone coronaria or the Poppy Anemone. These large-flowered Anemones (2.5-3” wide) make great cut flowers but are only zone-7 hardy and very prone to rotting in damp soils, which is why many gardeners here treat them as annuals. While available in the fall, most people plant them in spring (using the same method as for A. blanda) or buy them as forced potted plants. When planted in-ground in early spring, you can expect flowers on 10-16” tall plants about 3 months later, with both single (De Caen) and double (St. Brigid) flower forms. The colours range from blue (‘Mr. Fokker’, ‘Harmony Blue’), white, red (‘Hollandia’) and violet-pink (‘Sylphide’) but as mentioned earlier, expect inconsistent overwintering at best.
The late summer to fall-blooming Anemone x hybrida and A. hupehensis (commonly known as Japanese Anemones) are some of the easiest perennials to grow in this family, but they are also very precocious, so anticipate spreading. Old-fashioned cultivars such ‘September Charm’ (single silvery-pink), ‘Honorine Jobert’ (single white) and ‘Prinz Heinrich’ (compact 18-24” tall rose-pink semi-double) have been gracing cottage gardens for decades, often thriving in the background of semi-shaded mixed borders. The blooms make excellent cut flowers and modern hybrids such as ‘Pamina’ (2.5’ tall semi-dbl. pink) and ‘Pocahontas’ (2’ tall dbl. pale pink) are easier to use in smaller urban gardens. All are hardy to zone 5 and prefer a full- to part-sun exposure.
Last on my list of Anemones is one that looks like the Japanese but is actually an Anemone rupicola hybrid. The difference being that ‘Wild Swan’ bears single white blooms with a lilac-blue reverse from late spring right through to frost. It is also zone 5 hardy and likes much the same conditions as the Japanese Anemones.