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Gardening 101: Wood Anemones

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Gardening 101: Wood Anemones

May 7, 2018

Wood Anemone, A. nemorosa: “Gladed Windflower”

“The wood anemone is so often seen in the woods that there is rarely need to grow it,” wrote the wild-gardening plantsman William Robinson in 1883. A rare exception, he noted, was the pale blue Anemone nemorosa ‘Robinsoniana’. Both originally from Ireland, the flower and the man were reunited in the Oxford Botanic Garden, where it was formally identified.

If the wood anemone is not often seen in your woods, or you’d like to create your own glade, plant them in the conditions they prefer: dappled spring sunshine, in ground that is damp in winter.

Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer, for Gardenista.

Anemone nemorosa at the Royal Horticultural Society&#8\2\17;s gardens at Wisley in southern England.
Above: Anemone nemorosa at the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens at Wisley in southern England.

Wood anemone, or windflower, is a spreader, where it is happy. Since it prefers ground where there is plenty of leaf litter, generally among trees, this gently spreading habit should be welcome. Wild Anemone nemorosa is generally white, sometimes giving an impression of pale lilac or pink, when these colors appear on the petals’ reverse.

There are hundreds of anemone species, including the intensely colored florist’s flower Anemone coronaria (commonly called poppy anemone). The European wood anemone (shown here) has dozens of American relations; the most similar is A. quinquefolia, found in the northeastern part of the United States.

Anemone nemorosa in a wooded glade.
Above: Anemone nemorosa in a wooded glade.

The daisy-like flowers of wood anemone open to the day, expanding their petals in the sun. Rain, heavy cloud, or nightfall cause them to shut up shop again. In the wild, wood anemone grows as a monoculture under hedgerows and in woodland but it can also be seen making a natural, perfect combination with pale lilac cuckoo flower or creamy yellow wild daffodils on road verges.

A superior windflower, Anemone nemorosa &#8\2\16;Robinsoniana&#8\2\17;.
Above: A superior windflower, Anemone nemorosa ‘Robinsoniana’.

The Robinson windflower is wonderful for many reasons: deep-cut leaves, contrasting stem color, the aforementioned soft blue petals, with dove gray backs, and crowns of orange-gold stamen. It is a tough variety and carries a Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit.

Anemone nemorosa &#8\2\16;Vestal&#8\2\17; sports staminoids in the center, and is another Award of Garden Merit holder.
Above: Anemone nemorosa ‘Vestal’ sports staminoids in the center, and is another Award of Garden Merit holder.

Cheat Sheet

  • Wood anemones are cheery, ground-covering plants in spring, with foliage that is just as interesting as the flowers. They are fully hardy, thriving in USDA growing zones 3-8.
  • The flowers of Anemone nemorosa follow the sun, moving their faces from east to west during the course of a day.
  • Wood anemone forms its own drifts but doesn’t mind further tinkering. It is also a good mingler between shrubs, in relaxed gardens.
Anemone nemorosa at RHS Wisley.
Above: Anemone nemorosa at RHS Wisley.

Keep It Alive

  • Wood anemone spreads through rhizomatous roots, which don’t mind drying out during their dormant period in summer.
  • To establish them, it is easier to buy a plant in a pot in spring than to tease a plastic bag of desiccated tubers back to life (they need to be soaked).
  • Divide clumps in late summer, so that they can gather strength over the autumn.
Anemone nemorosa spreading into a hospitable patch of semi-shaded grass.
Above: Anemone nemorosa spreading into a hospitable patch of semi-shaded grass.

Planning a shade garden? For more growing and care tips, see Wood Anemones: A Field Guide and for more of our low-spreading favorites see Ground Covers 101. Read more:

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