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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
Frilly double pinks on strong stems have good garden manners. Wants to form a clump rather than spread. Blooms until frost.
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' 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 are 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.
In essence, the future looks bright. The compact breeding opens new markets for Anemones while the classics 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.