Understanding Anemones

To understand perennial Anemones, you have to understand the leader of the category, ‘Honorine Jobert’. It happens to be a white bloom, a single. “So what,” you may say. If you understand the popularity of this heritage cultivar, you will also understand the real importance of the new Anemone breeding that has appeared over the last decade.

‘Honorine Jobert’ has been the most popular Anemone we’ve grown at Creek Hill since we started the company back in 1990. Casual reading of the literature pretty much confirms that Honorine has always been on top since its discovery in a Verdun garden back in 1858. Pinks, singles, and doubles appeared pretty quickly thereafter, and then the whole category stabilized around this basic matrix by the late 1800s: Singles, Semis, and Doubles in white, light pink and dark pink. The names might have changed from grower to grower, but this is what perennial Anemones delivered.

We sell Anemeones in larger 50-cell and 21-cell trays. We find the smaller tray sizes just don't work.

Tall in the Fall Classics

Add to the color matrix: Tall in the Fall, and you'll begin to see the core appeal of Anemones. They bloom about three to five feet in the air from August to October and they bloom profusely. The perfect setting for them is against vertical elements like fences, porch railings, deck posts, among and behind the boxwoods, or around light posts. These are places where you often want to fill three dimensionally with color above the waist.

This is their garden uniqueness for over a century. Anemones bloom hard, high, and in the fall. Their bloom time lasts for weeks, just when many popular perennials are fading. Their stems are long and straight, so they have good vase behavior; and the rabbits and deer find them distasteful. In the spring, they emerge late, making them good companions for spring bulbs, as they cover the bulbs’ ripening foliage nicely.

Anemones are happiest in that half-and-half, partial shade you find among open trees, between a tree and the open areas around it, or up close to the house. Deep shade causes them to stretch for the sun and become floppy. All day southern sun causes them to scorch in the high summer. Their toughness makes them good for difficult areas like coastal gardens, naturalistic areas such as prairies or meadows, mass plantings, or property borders like fences, houses, and posts.

#1 White

'Honorine Jobert'

Big flowers. Clean whites. Blooms held about shoulder-high or taller. Beautiful golden crown of stamens in the center of the flower. Long stiff stems for vase work. Whereas other plants may give one or two blooms, 'Honorine' blooms furiously in September and October. Nothing else is quite like it.

#1 Pink

'September Charm'

The pink companion to 'Honorine', but not quite. Same flower power; same height and bloom time. However, light fuzz coats the flowers and stems that in the right light gives the plant a silvery sheen. Flowers are smaller, but more plentiful, if that can be imagined.

#1 Double

'Whirlwind'

Pure white with a crown of gold, surrounded by ruffled pinwheels of white petals. Blooms are a little larger and a little heavier than 'Honorine'; they appear a little sooner and a little shorter as well. Same long performance and good vase behavior. Award of Garden Merit from the RHS.

The Snowdrop Anemone

The exception to all this is Anemone sylvestris, a wonderful springtime naturalizer that we grow. It blooms very early, sometimes right in a late-breaking snow shower. It comes only in white and it grows very short - only twelve to eighteen inches. If 'Honorine' could have a love child with a white crocus, sylvestris would be the result.

Sylvestris is beautiful in drifts and works well as a green mulch among the trees. When left alone, it will form dense patches that hold the soil in and keep the weeds out. It can also work its way out into those areas between forest and open areas where tall grasses have trouble getting a foothold. In the garden, use it as a mass planting with tall companions that grow through the low groundcover it forms. It has the same powerful need to bloom as its fall-blooming cousins. Both the flower and its fluffy seed heads can be used for cuttings.

New Breeding

In the past, we considered the Anemones to be a “chugging” category, shipping the same plants every year. They are classic perennials you can always count on to bring in the same sales on the same cultivars. Then came a boom in new breeding.

To our surprise not one but four different breeders have been active in this category recently. Better still, each breeder brought a different focus to the classic themes. If you haven't seen these cultivars before, it's because they appeared only in the past decade and their importance has yet to filter into the markets.

The Swan Series

The first Swan was discovered in a little garden center called MacGregors. That start, plus hard work, resulted in the Swans Series: singles and doubles in - of all things - blues and purples. Here you get colors you don’t see in other Anemones. Plus, that color appears on the BACK of the flower, it starts blooming in MAY and keeps blooming through the summer, and it blooms only about TWO FEET tall. Definitely not a classic Anemone.

We first brought the Swans in because we thought the innovative colors were cool. But we now think the summer blooming nature of the series is more important to the market. It puts more Anemones into the prime retail season, wrapped in a more garden-friendly package. AN IMPORTANT POINT with the Swan Series is that they perform much better in their second year. Be sure to order vernalized plugs for retail performance in the first year.

'Wild Swan'

The original was found by Elizabeth MacGregor. Every night, ‘Wild Swan™’ will nod forward and expose the alternating blue petals on the back. The flower fronts are pure white and it blooms all summer long, another major difference with these anemones. Short two-foot blooms.

'Dreaming Swan'

Sister to 'Wild Swan™,' but with a purple back and semi-double flowers. Same height. It starts to flower in waves from June through September, earlier than most perennial Anemones.

'Ruffled Swan'

The big brother in the series, with bigger flowers, but still blooms only three feet. ‘Ruffled Swan’ has a large semi-double flower. Flowers are sterile, blooming in waves all summer long.

The Fantasy Series

The Fantasy™ series provides mainstream sales on a global basis. They started out as Japanese breeding, were picked up by two European breeding corporates, and were brought to America. They aim squarely at the mass market by taming the wilder features of Anemones - shorter plants, tighter blooms, plus a more compact habit that looks good in a pot and fits well on a cart or bench to improve production transport.

Is this bad? If you are serious about Anemone sales, it's not. Think "Anemones Modernized" and you have the gist. The wilder charms of Anemones have kept them out of the A-list league. The Fantasy series aims to update the Anemones for the realities of how modern Euro/American gardens are sold today. Expect traditional looks and colors, but shorter and neater with nicer garden manners. By the way, the standout performer everyone wants is the nearly-red 'Red Riding Hood'.

'Fantasy Red Riding Hood'

The deeply saturated pinks are probably the closest to red that we sell. Specially designed for pots, foundations, border, and urban gardens, these singles rise about two feet above the crown. Petals are thick; blooms in the fall.

'Fantasy Pocahontas'

Frilly double pinks on strong stems have good garden manners. Wants to form a clump rather than spread. Blooms until frost.


'Loreley'

Big blooms stained pink with a bleeding red picotee edge. It’s an innovation that snuck into the category from Vitro Westland in the Netherland. No one saw it coming and very little is known now.

'Lucky Charm'

'Lucky Charm' has dark pink singles held up by nearly BLACK stems, the foliage has PURPLE undersides, and the new leaves emerge as violet. Like the other new breeding, it wants to make a compact mound, and it spreads slowly, and it grows about mid-height.

Buy Clean Sources for Best Results

Given the Anemone’s reputation for vigor and exuberance, complaints to the opposite can be surprising. The fatigue is due to nematodes and viruses infiltrating the plant. The Anemone usually doesn't die, but they are ugly to the point of unsaleable and extremely difficult to cure.

Creek Hill is known as a clean source for Anemones and their vigor reflect it. But it helps to understand what is happening in the industry at large. Nematodes, viruses and other pests are a major plague on bare root Anemones crops shipped in from Europe. For the industry, bare root is the cheapest source, but it comes with punishments:

  • It's hard to maintain sterile conditions outside.
  • Diseases spread easily through rain or watering, so infestations spread quickly through outside crops.
  • They can lie dormant for several years, in the soil or nearby weed species, so they are notorious to eradicate.
  • Problems infect other crops, so you definitely don’t want a shipment of these Anemones to arrive at your place.
  • You get what the field gives.

Nematodes and viruses affect both the buyer and the gardener. Production rates plummet for the grower because infected material refuse to come to size quickly. For the gardener, they never really show the performance people expect. As a source, we consider Anemone plugs safer and more reliable than bare root because the soil begins as a sterile base, watering is more closely controlled, infections are easily identified and quickly destroyed, and the growing area is cleaner and tidier.

Nematode Damage

Nematodes travel on water from plant to plant. Once on a leaf, they slip through small openings called “semaphores.” Once inside the leaf, they feed on sugars that ordinarily go to building more leaf structure.

Weeds Harbor Pests

Anemones with nematode damage decline very slowly. The leaf damage looks like other common problems that can go away. Unfortunately, this plant will become stunted. The only cure is burning.

Photo supplied by Steven Tjosvold, University of California Cooperative Extension

A Healthy Plug

This 21-cell plug looks green and vital with no brown spots. Notice the multiple growing points and the roots weaving through the soil. Large plugs are quick to plant and finish quickly as well.

Enthusiastic?

Oh, yes. If "naturalize" is a good word in your vocabulary, then you will have many good words about the Anemones. They cover the soil and hold it; they bloom high and well in shadier spots other plants can't reach; and they very visible from the street. If you want companions, choose the ones with strong personalities that can stand on their own, like big showy perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs - things that thrive among competition.

Anemones work in both civilized and wilder gardens and require very little maintenance. As good as they are, however, Anemones would sell even better if they also came in a tighter package. As a result, almost all the new cultivars recently released are short, slow to spread, and clumping in habit. In other words, they are tamer versions with better garden manners towards the other genera.

Buying Advice

In essence, the future looks bright. The compact breeding opens new markets for Anemones while the classic keep their traditional big strengths. New cultivars expand the genus towards the mass market, while the traditional cultivars keep their anchor as the "go-to" perennial for big areas, high color, and powerful fall blooming. Even if the new cultivars are more refined, they retain all the garden-worthiness of the classics.

As you can see from the charts below, the classic Anemones have been holding both steady and strong. However, the growth is coming from new Anemones. The new varieties have done a good job of expanding the audience for Anemones. We recognize the new "petite" Anemones fit better within the modern bench-and-cart-driven economics of today's horticultural scene. The new colors, new blooming seasons, and shorter heights draws new attention to the genus as a whole.

We also think this renewed attention will bring more curiosity towards the standard ones as the pool of Anemone enthusiast widen. A better fit into a typical front garden means a wider reach and more fame for the genus. That fame brings more curiosity back to the standards whose traditional strengths remain unchanged.

If you already buy Anemones, our advice would be to add some new ones - especially ‘Wild Swan’ and ‘Pocahontas’, both on a tear right now. If you don’t sell Anemones, we would recommend that you take another look. Start with a couple of classics like ‘Honorine Jobert’ and ‘September Charm,’ but don’t forget to grow out some new ones as well.

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