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Cornucopia - In praise of Anemones

In praise of Anemones
Sue Gray

Just before I fell in the garden and broke my hip, Pat had loaned me the Newsletter from the South Yorkshire group. In it a member had written an article detailing what she felt were the 10 ‘must have’ plants for any garden. “I could do that for our Newsletter” I said to myself – but how wrong I was. During my time of enforced rest I tried to compile my list, and that is where the trouble started! I couldn’t even decide on 10 species, let alone 10 plants.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that the one species that I felt I really could not manage without in the garden were anemones. I don’t think it was just because it was springtime, because there really does seem to be an anemone for every season of the year. I confess that I find it very hard to get worked up about snowdrops – sorry to all you galanthophiles – but the sight of the first Anemone blanda really does lift my spirits. Those delicate blue or white flowers, that must be as tough as old boots and helpfully seed themselves around without being invasive, seem to appear from nowhere.

As we move further in to spring, there are the wood anemones, Anemone nemorosa, and all the lovely little gems that have been developed from it. I am particularly fond of the double white 'Vestal', and the pale blue 'Robinsoniana' – both holders of an AGM, but there are so many to choose from, and be tempted by at the Harrogate Spring Show! It was interesting to see in John Massey’s recent lecture, pictures of Anemone pavonina naturalised in a meadow. From our visit to Ashwood Nursery a few years ago, I have two surviving small clumps in the garden, and they have flowered surprisingly well this year.

Someone once said to me that it didn’t seem right having these flowers in such brilliant shades of red, pink and purple flowering at a time that we associate with the delicate pastel shades of spring, and I can see what she meant. However, as they require a more open site than many of the spring ‘woodlanders’, they are not in competition and I believe can have their place.

Returning to those ‘woodlanders’, the small nemerosa varieties are followed by the larger Anemone sylvestris and the more recently introduced Anemone prattii. Both grow to around 12 inches, with large white flowers but prattii has a blue back like the early summer flowering Anemone leveillei and rivularis.

I love these two varieties, but have struggled to keep rivularis in my garden – probably by planting it in the wrong place! Being an anemone you tend to suppose that it requires shade, but then you go and see what has been vast quantities luxuriating in full sun at Jura House Garden, and realise you were wrong! I have also found it difficult to propagate from seed – how frustrating to be told by growers how easily it comes! You do need to give sown seed a period of cold, and the seed must be fresh. I proved this by buying a packet of the previous year’s seed at Jura House, and ‘acquiring’ some that happened to fall into my hand as I was testing the texture. Even though the latter was stored in less than ideal conditions in a cellophane bag until our return home, and got rather ‘sweaty’, it is that seed that has germinated, and not the correctly stored seed from the previous year – I live in hopes! Seed collected from my own leveillei plant, and sown straight away, again overwintered outside and then given some heat, has germinated well.

Anemone rivularis is taller than leveillei at about 2½-3 feet and the flowers seem to erupt like shooting stars from the stems.

Then where would we be without the late summer and autumn flowering Anemone x hybrida that we perhaps think of as japonica? The ‘ordinary’ single pink and white forms, so much a staple of cottage gardens, and the ever increasing number of named varieties. I have several of these, including the double-flowered 'Whirlwind' (white) and 'Pamina' (pink) and they are such a welcome addition to the garden when other plants are going over, and will just go on and on flowering if you remove the seedheads. I know that some gardeners consider them a ‘thug’, and they can be hard to remove or divide, due to their deep roots, but I can forgive them for that as long as they keeping giving me colour so long into autumn.

So, there you have it – my nomination for the ‘must have’ species for the garden. What would be your nomination? Over to you!

First published in the West Yorkshire Group Newsletter, Summer 2011
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 30.
© Copyright for this article: Sue Gray

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2012. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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