(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 5, 2010. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
One of the harbingers of the European spring is drifts of wood anemone growing under the deciduous forests of beech, oak and maple. Botanically, wood anemones are called Anemone nemorosa. Plants produce wiry stems to 10 to 25 cm. Each stem produces a whorl of three, trisected leaves and is topped with a single 2 to 3 cm diameter flower. Each bloom normally has 6 to 8 tepals (the ‘petals' are actually modified sepals). In the wild, white is the normal colour but pink and blue forms do exist. Plants may be grown from seed but the seed needs to be sown as soon as it is ripe (they quickly lose viability if left dry on a shelf). They require a stratification period (essentially a winter) before they will germinate.
Due to the fussy nature of seed germination, plants are more commonly grown by division of their narrow rhizomes. If happy, wood anemone will multiply quite rapidly via underground rhizomes to produce a large-size colony. If dug after flowering, you can separate the plants into numerous plantlets. All you need is a growing stem and a couple of inches of the rhizome.
In the garden, wood anemones prefer dappled shade. Their soil should be moderately moist and organic-rich. They make admirable groundcovers under deciduous trees but in warm climates, may go dormant by mid summer. In cool climates, they will stay green well into September.
Wood anemones have been grown as garden ornamentals for hundreds of years. As a result of their natural variation, many named varieties now exist, most which were selected many years ago. While the wild form has small 2 to 3 cm diameter flowers, some selected forms have flowers approaching 6 cm in diameter.
Availability of this woodland anemone is variable. Generally you will need to seek out a specialty woodland plant nursery. ‘Lychette' has white flowers twice the size of the wild type. Two of the largest-flowered selections include ‘Allenii' and ‘Robinsoniana'. Both have lavender flowers but the outside of the tepals is lilac-blue on ‘Allenii' while the exterior is more grey-blue on ‘Robinsoniana'. Also quite large-flowered is ‘Blue Beauty' and ‘Blue Bonnet', both which are pale blue. The richest blue colour is found on ‘Royal Blue' but its flowers are a little smaller than the previous selections.
Shown above is 'Allenii' (top left), 'Robinsoniana' (top right), 'Royal Blue' (bottom left) and 'Blue Eyes' (bottom right)
‘Rosea' and ‘Westwell Pink' have very pale pink flowers that age to deep pink. One of the prettiest is ‘Vestal'. This selection has small flowers that are white but has a double, pompom-like center. ‘Monstrosa' has flowers double flowers that are a mix of white and green while ‘Blue Eyes' has double white flowers with a blue center. If unusual flowers are your thing then try ‘Green Fingers' whose white flowers have a small, central leafy tuft. More bizarre still is ‘Bracteata' whose tepals are replaced by tiny green leaves!
Shown above is 'Vestal' (top left), 'Green Fingers' (top right), 'Monstrosa' (bottom left) and 'Westwell Pink' (bottom right)
Closely related to wood anemone and sometimes growing in the same area is A. ranunculoides with small buttercup-yellow flowers. In areas where the two species overlap, you many encounter a natural hybrid called A. x lipsiensis. From this hybrid comes the selection ‘Pallida' whose flowers are 3 cm and a pretty butter yellow.
Shown above is A. ranunculoides (left) and A. X lipsiensis.
I would like to thank the following people for the use of their pictures: Galanthophile ('Green Fingers'), KMAC ('Westwell Pink'), kniphofia ('Monstrosa') and wallaby1 ('Blue Eyes').