Winter winds leave an untidy legacy in the early spring garden. Cleaning up those broken branches and dead leaves is a chore, but the job is a lot more pleasant if you have another kind of “wind” tickling the toes of your garden clogs—windflowers or spring anemones. Planted in borders or containers, they emerge just as the garden gets going.
All anemones are members of the buttercup or Ranunculaceae family. Several species sprout from fall-planted rhizomes and spread politely when they are happy. The blooms can be demure or relatively showy, with foliage that is most often attractively dissected. Deer tend to leave anemones alone, but early spring pollinators, who use the flowers as a much-needed food source, love them all.
Little Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda) is often the earliest riser among the windflowers, generally appearing in late March or early April. Growing only 6 to 9 inches tall, blanda anemones are so tough that they can even be planted beneath black walnut trees. The flowers look more like daisies than buttercups, with nine to twelve petal-like sepals in shades of violet-blue, pink, or white. The leaves are almost fern-like in appearance and add a flourish to the flowers.
Grecian windflowers rhizomes are most often available in mixed assortments, but with a little hunting, you can also buy single colors. An old favorite variety, ‘White Splendor’, bears clean white sepals that harmonize well with other spring flowers, and the classic Blue Shades mix comes in pretty shades of violet blue. Grecian windflowers are very effective planted in drifts or naturalized in wooded areas and coexist well with other plants. This is a bonus, given their ephemeral nature. Once the plant has bloomed and set seed, it fades away completely until the following spring.
A Different Kind of Snowdrop
Snowdrop windflower (Anemone sylvestris) is another April bloomer. The flowers sit atop stems that may reach up to 18 inches tall. Each delicate flower has slightly ruffled white sepals that surround prominent yellow stamens. The petals are followed up by distinctive, fuzzy white seed heads later on. Sometimes snowdrop windflowers give an encore performance in the fall. With their longer stems and sweet fragrance, these anemones also make good cut flowers.
Wind in the Woods
In April and May, wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) emerges. The plants are a little taller than Grecian windflowers, with darker green, dissected foliage and erect stems that rise between 6 and 18 inches. Those dainty petal-like sepals are generally white, at least on the wild form. Sometimes they are tinged pink or palest blue. Specialty nurseries carry more unusual forms of wood anemone, including some with blue, pink or even yellow-green flowers. Double-petaled forms, like ‘Alba Plena’ are only an Internet search away.
Showy in the Spring
Poppy anemones (Anemone coronaria) are the showiest of the spring bloomers and tend to appear a little later in spring. Deep blue, red, pink, or white petal-like sepals surround dramatic black or blue-black centers on flowers that bloom atop stalks up to 18 inches tall. Because of their bold good looks, poppy anemones have long been favorites of flower arranging.
Among the most popular poppy anemone varieties are the de Caen types, which bear single flowers and are usually sold in mixed-color assortments. Other old favorites include the deep blue-purple ‘Mr. Fokker’ and pristine white ‘Mount Everest’, which has semi-double flowers.
Unlike other spring-blooming anemones, coronaria varieties are only reliably hardy within USDA plant hardiness zones 7-10 (though some cultivars like ‘Mr. Fokker’ are reportedly hardier), so the tubers cannot be planted outside in cold-winter climates. If you have an unheated sun porch or cold frame, plant them in pots in the fall, place in the frost free spaces, and bring them outside in the spring. Otherwise, plant in very early spring for late spring or early summer bloom.
All spring-blooming anemones like rich, well-drained soil. Wood and snowdrop varieties prefer partially shady situations, while Grecian and poppy anemones relish more sunshine. If your soil is poor or poorly frost-free end it with a high-quality product like Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Soak the tuberous rhizomes of Grecian, snowdrop, and wood anemones overnight before planting. If you are planting Grecian windflowers naturalizing, place the rhizomes close together, and they will eventually spread on their own.
You can find windflowers alongside the tulip and daffodil bulbs on retailers’ shelves starting in early fall. Poppy anemones are generally available for spring shipment.