PJ Gartin has tended the same Charleston garden for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and the author of two gardening books.

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Keep Your Friends Close, but Your Anemones Closer
by PJ Gartin       #Colorful   #Flowers   #Plant Profile






Move over pansy, cyclamen and snapdragon. Anemone (A. coronaria) is the new darling of the cool-season bloomers. After showing up in garden centers around mid-December last year, this scintillating Mediterranean native was snapped up faster than a gardener can say “ranunculus.” 

Anemones’ blossoms have fewer petals than its cousin, the lusciously frilly Persian buttercup (Ranunculus asiaticus). Both species belong to the ranunculus family (Ranunculaceae), whose colorful blossoms and crowfoot foliage have been admired for centuries. Anemones are found in a palette of vibrant colors — from pristine white to shades of periwinkle blue and brilliant purple. One variety even sports bright red petals with an inner band of white that surrounds navy blue stamens. When multiple clusters are placed along the edge of a flowerbed, it’s like growing bunting in your garden.

More often than not, anemones display a simple overlapping ring of poppy-shaped petals. No wonder folks sometimes call it poppy anemone. Fancier cultivars sport an extra row of petals while other varieties are reminiscent of miniature pom-pom dahlias.

Dahlia-like anemones comingle with pansy, viola and the fast-growing ground cover henbit (Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’).

No matter which kind you chose, anemones guarantee month after month of visual pleasure if you know what makes it tick: full sun, regular watering and well-drained soil. Wet feet promptly send it to the compost heap.

Fortunately, other cool-season annuals share anemones’ horticultural needs; so rather than sacrificing old reliable favorites such as pansy, cyclamen, or snapdragon, comingle them with anemones. Viola and starflower (Tristagma uniflorum) also make good companions. But if you crave sharp color contrast, white sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) makes the perfect foil. It’s robust, but never upstages its taller neighbors.

Although anemones look charming in window boxes — or any other type of container as long as there’s good drainage — it also cheerfully thrives in herbaceous borders. If you have ample room, plant anemones in exaggerated abundance. It’s stunning. While planting and caring for masses of them might at first seem overwhelming, horticulturists Robin Smith and Daryl Bonnette have mastered the art of growing anemones. Smith, who is supervisor of grounds at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, depends on plant geek extraordinaire Bonnette to keep thousands of anemones blooming throughout the sprawling campus.

Masses of double-petaled purple anemone nod in the sun. Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) sways in background.

Whether you’re growing a few or many, Bonnette prefers purchasing them in 6-inch pots rather than smaller ones and offers this advice, “Don’t touch or mess up the roots,” she says. Larger-sized containers hold three plants instead of one, and if not separated at planting, you’ll avoid damaging the roots. An additional plus to this strategy is that hole digging is reduced by a third. If you’re really in a hurry, simply drop the entire pot in the ground. No matter which method you choose, space trios 2½-3 feet apart.

Another important reason for planting in clusters of three is that anemones produce a single 2-inch blossom per stem. Although each plant is capable of sending up four to five flowers at a time, bunching groups instead of scattering individuals packs more visual punch.

Anemones’ flower factory dramatically slows production when spent flowers are not removed. You’ll need a sharp pair of snippers to cut off the stem at soil level. While you’re at the base of the plant, look for new buds beginning to form. Once the old stalk is removed, it doesn’t take long for another bud to shoot skyward.


Clockwise from top-left: Starflower is a reliable perennial bulb that never gets tall enough to upstage anemone. • Easy to care for and low growing, the white version of sweet alyssum accentuates anemones’ many colors and contributes texture and continuity to the overall ensemble. • Add patriotic flair to your winter garden with botanical bunting. Red, white and blue anemones will continue to bloom into late spring. • The Coronaria species of anemone is indigenous to countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.


Where Can I Get Anemones?

If your favorite garden center does not have tubers next autumn, the following mail-order sources offer A. coronaria:

American Meadows

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs

Willow Creek Gardens

One might think that pushing anemones to flower beyond their natural capability with a blossom-enhancing fertilizer makes horticultural sense, although Smith says it doesn’t. She recommends periodic doses of 6-24-12, “but don’t use a bloom booster.” Gardeners who prefer a strictly organic approach toward nutrients should be prepared to fertilize slightly more often. An easy way to tell if an anemone is low on fuel is to look for hints of yellow on lower leaves.

Although anemones are usually considered an annual, some manage a repeat performance the following year. Expect to see hints of green pushing up through the soil in mid to late September. While it’s too late to plant tubers now — that should have been done this past autumn – garden centers should have an ample selection of blooming anemones.

For gardeners who prefer true wildflowers, two species of anemone are native to North America: Canadian, or sometimes called meadow, anemone (A. canadensis; Zones 2a–6b) and tall anemone (A. virginiana; Zones 3a–9b). Sometimes difficult to locate locally, plants can be found online.


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 26 Number 1.
Photography courtesy of ©i-pag/bigstock.com and PJ Gartin.


Posted: 01/16/18   RSS | Print


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