If I had some of my friends that are against teaching people the names of plants, this would be the perfect example to show their error in thinking. There are over 100 species of Anemone identified in the wild across the world. If we included all the cultivated varieties of Anemones with those wild species, we would easily be over 200 "Anemones" in the world. Their common name is the wind flower, and that is absolutely no help whatsoever. It simply refers to how they typically hold their flowers above the foliage and and the flowers moves in the wind, hence "wind flower".
So what does it matter, Steve? Why does it matter if we call this variety, Anemone and this variety, Anemone? Who cares. Let people call plants what they want. I always say I have more confidence in you than the gardening and nursery world. I believe you are fully capable of learning some incredibly fascinating ways to learn about plants and their stories, and if you learn their stories, you will learn some of their names.
But for a moment, lets indulge the original proposition and just not care and call them all "Anemone". You see an "Anemone" at a retailer or online, and you buy that plant. What you buy is this strange hard bulb looking thing which is presumably Anemone blanda or Anemone coronaria which are both tuberous plants that enjoy full sun and crave quick draining soil and bloom in the spring. Anemone coronaria is most commonly grown in the cut flower world and is at home in full sun but not reliably perennial and only hardy to Zone 7 in the US. Neither Anemone blanda or coronaria are reliable perennials in most gardens.
So we've define Anemone, right? A spring blooming full-sun flower that we see being used for cut flowers started from bulbs. Remember the part where there are over 200 species and varieties of Anemone?
On the other side of the Anemone blooming calendar are what I like to call the better Anemones. This includes all of the new hybrid varieties that have many of their parentage in Anemone hupehensis, tomentosa, sylvestris, and rupicola species. These different Anemone have varieties that bloom in spring and other that bloom in late summer through the fall and many of them doing it in light shade depending on your climate and soil.
Here we have a huge group with plants in it that grow and behave totally different from each other. This illustrates why it's so important to know the stories of the plants we grow. I'm going to focus on some of my favorite Anemones, but keep in mind, this is a huge family of plants to discover.
Anemone sylvestris has always had its place in the garden. It loves light to even dense shade in warm climates, and blooms early in the spring. If there has been a downside to the plant, it can be at times aggressive if you don't keep an eye on it, and the flowers can be sparse in some cases. Now enters Anemone 'Spring Beauty White' which has Anemone sylvestris in its parentage and blooms in spring but with taller and more profuse flowers. If you want to start the Anemone bloom calendar early, this is where to start. In warm climates, light shade or morning sun with afternoon shade is still best.
The next series I became fascinated with last year, because it took some its parentage from Anemone rupicola. Typically, that is a plant you see in rock gardens or alpine plant collections. The fine plants people at Elizabeth MacGregor nursery in Scotland are who we have to thank for this incredible series. 'Wild Swan' was the first plant on the market in the U.S., and I'm not sure if it or any of the other Swans have gotten the attention they deserve.
While Anemone 'Wild Swan' would give you the impression the plant is "wild", it is in fact not. I find it to be a rather refined plant that even in a nutrient dense soil here at Natchez Glen runs very little and holds its flowers 12-18" in the air. The Swan that I loved from last year was Anemone 'Dainty Swan'. Instead of the lilac blue-purple stripe on the back of the petals of 'Wild Swan', 'Dainty Swan' has a semi-double petal and a mauve cranberry stripe and blush to the back of the petals. It also is light more vigorous here with flowers held 18-24" in the air and extremely heavy flowered even for a young plant. Many of the Swans will begin flowering earlier in the year, which here begins in late May but really picks up when the temperatures cool in September. Also best sited with light shade but can take more in high quality soil and in cooler climates.
If the Swans are the more delicate of the Anemone, their tall and more robust relative would be the family with many of the traits of Anemone hupehensis and tomentosa, many times called Japanese anemone. These are true fall blooming plants that can have flowers as tall as six feet held on stems nearly an inch in diameter. For these taller varieties, they are at home in light shade. But as you go to cooler places in the U.S. and the world, they can take increasingly more sun. This group is also where Anemone received a reputation as aggressive in some gardens. Can they spread via running rhizomes and be "aggressive" if left alone and not paid attention? Yes, but your job as a gardener is to make sure that doesn't happen. If you notice them running too far, simply cut into the soil, lift that rhizome, and toss it to the compost heap.
In the taller varieties of Anemone, I have two favorites. The first is Anemone 'Whirlwind' which is indeed a whirlwind of flowers. With white semi-double flowers held on stems 4-5' tall it is covered with flowers from September until frost here at Natchez Glen. The other in this group I love because when floral designers talk of a mythical dream blush color tone, this the flower, Anemone tomentosa 'Robustissima'.It has this perfect balance of this soft pink and creamy white that just oozes blush tones.
Trying to wrap up Anemones is tough task because I love so many of them. The group that is one of the newer group I like to think of as more compact and refined version of the late blooming Anemone of the past. Two of those series are the Curtain Call series and the Fantasy series. I'm lucky enough to work with both the companies that bred and introduced these plants. They are both compact form plants 18-24" tall, but as the temperatures and day length shortens in the fall they are covered with flowers even as young plants. Many of the varieties even show the occasional semi-double flowers, and the colors range from a deep rose to a blush pink. From the Fantasy series, Anemone 'Pocahontas' is a favorite because of its soft pink tone and double flowers. 'Pocahontas' also has slightly upward curved petals at the tips giving it incredible texture.
Anemone represent one of those moments with gardening where you thought you knew something, and it turned out you didn't know them at all. Thanks to breeders like Elizabeth MacGregor, we keep seeing new breakthrough that bring us magical plants like the Swan Anemones. Those innovations are what keeps making them a wondrous plant for gardens. I'll leave you with the below song lyrics written by Joni Mitchell which convey Anemone so well and so many things in gardening.
I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all
- Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now