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Gardening 101: Japanese Anemones

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Gardening 101: Japanese Anemones

July 16, 2019

Japanese Anemone, A. hupehensis: “Daughter of the Wind”

There’s a nondescript, partially shaded corner of my garden which is frankly rather dull until finally it comes into its own in September. That’s when the gorgeous Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’  produces its pearly buds as a subtle preview of the real show—white flowers bobbing delicately on tall wire-thin stems. What makes these flowers so outstanding is their brilliant centers, bright green seed heads surrounded by a thicket of orangey yellow stamens.

Surprisingly Japanese anemones aren’t Japanese at all. This corner of my garden is actually home to natives of China. Read on to hear the story of how they came to Brooklyn (and gardens in other countries):

Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer for Gardenista.

Early European plant explorers first discovered windflowers in Japan, where they had been imported and cultivated by gardeners for generations. (The anemones, which frequently like to grow where they want instead of where you plant them, had escaped into the wild and naturalized.)  The Europeans labeled the plants Anemone japonica.
Above: Early European plant explorers first discovered windflowers in Japan, where they had been imported and cultivated by gardeners for generations. (The anemones, which frequently like to grow where they want instead of where you plant them, had escaped into the wild and naturalized.)  The Europeans labeled the plants Anemone japonica.
Today the plant has been re-named Anemone hupehensis, or Chinese anemone. It is a native of Hupeh province in eastern China. The Victorian plant hunter Robert Fortune discovered it growing in a cemetery in Shanghai and introduced it in Europe in 1844.
Above: Today the plant has been re-named Anemone hupehensis, or Chinese anemone. It is a native of Hupeh province in eastern China. The Victorian plant hunter Robert Fortune discovered it growing in a cemetery in Shanghai and introduced it in Europe in 1844.
There are more than 120 species of Anemone but unlike some of the others which grow from tubers or rhizomes, Anemone hupehensis is a tall (typically 2 to 4 feet in height) long-lived perennial with fibrous roots that can spread via underground stems.
Above: There are more than 120 species of Anemone but unlike some of the others which grow from tubers or rhizomes, Anemone hupehensis is a tall (typically 2 to 4 feet in height) long-lived perennial with fibrous roots that can spread via underground stems.
Its shallow, saucer-like flowers, which appear in single or double versions, plain or ruffled, are most often white or pink, although deeper rose colored varieties are available.
Above: Its shallow, saucer-like flowers, which appear in single or double versions, plain or ruffled, are most often white or pink, although deeper rose colored varieties are available.
This plant is often slow to establish but once it has made a home in a spot it does not like to be moved. Under the right circumstances, Ait can become aggressive and is even considered invasive in Hawaii.
Above: This plant is often slow to establish but once it has made a home in a spot it does not like to be moved. Under the right circumstances, Ait can become aggressive and is even considered invasive in Hawaii.

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Cheat Sheet

  • Despite their delicate appearance Japanese anemones can be quite hard to eradicate, so it’s wise to consider carefully where you decide to plant them.
  • The deep green foliage tends to appear later in the season than that of other perennials, so they are good companions for spring blooming bulbs.
  • Japanese anemones look beautiful massed but they also work well with other fall bloomers such as goldenrod, asters and bugbane, and their dainty structure provides an excellent contrast to yuccas, hostas, ferns and ornamental grasses.

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Keep It Alive

  • Plant in early spring in zones 4 to 9 in well-draining soil that has plenty of organic matter such as compost added to it.
  • A. hupehensis will grow in both sunny or semi-shady conditions, but morning sun in a hot climate is preferred to keep the leaves from being burned late in the day.
  • This plant likes moisture so don’t let it dry out—but also make sure the drainage is adequate because making it spend the winter in water-logged soil can be fatal.
This plant is often slow to establish but once it has made a home in a spot it does not like to be moved. Under the right circumstances, Ait can become aggressive and is even considered invasive in Hawaii.
Above: This plant is often slow to establish but once it has made a home in a spot it does not like to be moved. Under the right circumstances, Ait can become aggressive and is even considered invasive in Hawaii.
There are a variety of theories on how these plants acquired the name “windflowers.”  The Greek word for wind is “anemos” and the word “anemone” is translated as “the daughter of the wind.” The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder declared, rather fancifully, that anemone flowers were opened by the wind.
Above: There are a variety of theories on how these plants acquired the name “windflowers.”  The Greek word for wind is “anemos” and the word “anemone” is translated as “the daughter of the wind.” The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder declared, rather fancifully, that anemone flowers were opened by the wind.
But the name may simply have come from a gardener’s observation that the delicate branching stems are easily set in motion by even the slightest breeze, causing the flowers to dance in the wind.
Above: But the name may simply have come from a gardener’s observation that the delicate branching stems are easily set in motion by even the slightest breeze, causing the flowers to dance in the wind.

N.B.: For more of our favorite autumn bloomers, our Garden Design 101 guides can help:

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for japanese anemone with our Japanese Anemone: A Field Guide.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various perennial plants with our Perennials: A Field Guide.

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