Anemones; difficult to say, but oh so easy to grow! Adaptable, undemanding, and charming, anemones are a welcome and widespread feature of gardens, woodlands, and meadows across almost every continent. These low-maintenance, high-impact plants are known for their diverse, vibrant blooms and their delightful dances as they sway gently in a breeze.
Anemones are one of the easiest plants to grow, regardless of the conditions in your garden or your gardening expertise. And with a little help from our ultimate guide, growing your own gorgeous anemones really couldn’t be simpler!
What are Anemones?
Anemone is a genus of flowering perennial plants in the buttercup family Ranunculaceae. It comprises over 120 individual species of anemones which are found abundantly throughout temperate regions of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.
Most commonly, anemones produce flowers of violets, whites, pinks, and reds, framing a deeper coloured centre or ‘pistil’, and large, irregularly shaped foliage that clusters densely around the base of the stem. Most anemones have broad single-flowers, although there are a few double-flowered varieties that produce stunning frilled blooms.
The delicate, soft, almost crinkled petals and tall stems of many species mean that anemones are often likened to poppies. Some varieties can grow as tall as five feet, although most species remain considerably shorter at around three feet at full maturity, with the smallest varieties reaching just six inches tall.
Anemones are split into three categories depending on the season in which they flower and how they grow. Spring-flowering varieties are often found in woodlands and meadows and can be either tuberous or rhizomatous; summer-flowering species prefer a hot, dry, climate and are mainly tuberous; and late summer and autumn-flowering varieties are mostly found in shaded areas and have fibrous root systems.
Anemones are colloquially known as windflowers, due in part to the way that they sway elegantly in the breeze. The name anemone originates from the Ancient Greek ánemos, meaning ‘wind’, and ṓnē, meaning ‘daughter of’, translating literally to ‘daughter of the wind’.
Their gentle oscillating movement as they sway in the breeze brings a dynamic yet soothing aesthetic to the garden. Anemones will easily spread to fill a border over time through rhizomatous or tuberous reproduction depending on the species, and they offer a striking visual display when grown en masse in borders.
What do anemones symbolise?
Since anemones are so widespread and so abundant throughout many different countries of the world, they have come to symbolise a variety of different things to different cultures.
In Victorian floriography or the language of flowers, anemones were thought to symbolise a forsaken love.
In early modern Europe, anemones were believed to have medicinal and protective properties and were carried by peasants to ward off illness, injury, and ill fortune. Conversely, in Eastern cultures, anemones are traditionally thought to encourage bad luck and ill health.
In Greek mythology, a story tells of the goddess Aphrodite who was engaged in a love affair with Adonis. When Adonis was savaged by a wild boar, Aphrodite’s tears mixed with the blood of Adonis and gave rise to scarlet-coloured anemones, and so the flowers were thought to forebode the death of a loved one.
In Christian iconography, red anemones are often featured in depictions of the crucifixion, symbolising both the blood shed by Christ and the sorrow of the Virgin Mary.
A more contemporary symbolism attached to anemones is that of anticipation. This is because of the way anemone petals close up at night, as though waiting patiently until the sun rises when they open back up again.
Best types of anemone to grow
There are over 100 unique varieties of anemone, each with its own distinct flower, foliage, and care requirements. Here are some of the best varieties of anemone to have a go at growing in your garden.
Anemone Blanda is the archetypal anemone with petals that open and close in alignment with the sun’s circadian rhythm. They are commonly known as the ‘Grecian Windflower’. Their flowers, which appear in late summer and early autumn, have a daisy-like appearance with white or violet petals framing cheerful yellow centres.
Anemone ‘Bordeaux’ is a cultivar that produces rich, velvety, wine-coloured flowers with deep indigo centres in early spring. They like light, well-draining soil and a position with full sun.
Anemone ‘Bressingham Glow’ is a cultivar of the Japonica anemone which produces bright, almost neon magenta and fuchsia coloured flowers. It is one of the tallest anemone varieties, often reaching three feet in height, and can easily spread distances of up to four feet.
Anemone Coronaria, or the ‘Poppy Anemone’ are so named because their flowers bear a striking resemblance to poppies. They are available in a range of vivid colours from bright scarlets to deep indigos. This variety is more light-tolerant than others and will appreciate a full-sun position in your garden.
Anemone Japonica, or Japanese anemones, originate from Asia. They produce striking, tall, dainty, flowers with vivid colours and fleshy petals. Japanese anemones are rhizomatous, meaning they spread quickly so are best suited to ground borders. Their tall, upright growth habit means they are sure to stand out proudly in any border.
Anemone ‘Mr Fokker’ is a coronaria cultivar that produces delightful violet-hued blooms framing deep black centres. They are another light-loving variety that needs full sun to produce plenty of blooms. They also like particularly well-draining soil.
Anemone ‘Fullstar’ offer decorative pom-pom-like double-flowered blooms in shades of violet, red, pink, and white. Some Fullstar varieties even produce bicoloured blooms. They love a position in full sun and are well suited to being grown in pots or smaller borders since they don’t spread as vigorously as other varieties.
Anemone Marianne ‘Panda’ is a truly unique coronaria cultivar featuring soft white poppy-like petals surrounding a jet black central pistil. They are so named because of their resemblance to panda bears. Graceful yet dramatic, these are a true showstopper in garden borders and bouquets alike.
Anemone Narcissiflora, also known as the ‘Narcissus-flowered anemone’, closely resemble some varieties of Daffodils, that belong to the Narcissus genus. They are an early spring flowering variety, often displaying pale white petals with bright yellow centres. This alpine anemone likes very well-draining soil.
Anemone ‘Praecox’ is a stunning Japonica cultivar with thick, almost orchid-like bi-coloured petals of pinks, mauves, and whites, with pale yellow-green pistils. They flower through summer and into autumn, preferring a relatively sunny position in the garden.
Anemone Ranunculoides produce dense displays of small, deep yellow coloured flowers which are often likened to buttercups. They are often found growing wild in woodlands and forests and prefer a position in partial shade.
Anemone Sylvestris is known as the ‘Snowdrop windflower’, which, like its namesake, produces lots of white-coloured flowers during springtime. They are a very low-maintenance variety that will grow well in a range of light and soil conditions.
How to grow Anemone
Anemones are delightfully low-maintenance plants that can be easily grown in just about any garden or outdoor space. Our simple care guide will give you all the tips you need to help your anemones flourish!
Growing from Bulb
Most varieties of anemone are tuberous, meaning they grow from small bulbs known as corms. These corms are not only easy to grow, but they are also incredibly productive, generating anything up to thirty flowers each! After purchasing your anemone corms, you should try to plant them as soon as possible since they are prone to drying out. It’s important to soak your corms in water for a few hours until they begin to expand. Once they have swollen to around twice their size, you can plant the bulbs directly into their intended position in the ground. It doesn’t matter which way up you plant them, the shoots will figure out which way is up. Once planted, give the soil around the bulbs a thorough soaking.
The best time to plant your anemone corms will depend on the species. Spring bloomers should be planted in the autumn, whilst late summer and autumn bloomers should be planted in early spring.
How to Grow Anemone from Seed
Anemones can also be grown from seed, although this method tends to be slow and unpredictable. You will find you have much more success when growing or propagating from existing culms. If you really do want to try growing anemones from seed, you can collect them from the dried seed heads once they finish flowering.
The seeds you collect can be sown straight away in trays filled with loose, rich potting mix. Place the seed trays in a cold frame or non-heated greenhouse and keep the soil lightly and evenly moist until seedlings appear. Once they have a couple of true leaves, you can plant the seedlings out into their intended position, but mulch them well to protect them from frosts and extreme winter weather. Anemones grown from seed won’t flower until their second year, so you will need a little patience!
Where to plant
Anemones make the most striking visual impact when grown in large volumes in ground borders, but some varieties are equally happy when grown in pots. The corms should be planted around two to four inches deep and spaced around four inches apart for ground borders. If you choose to grow a particularly tall variety, you may need to stake them for extra support as they mature to full height.
If growing in containers, stick to one or two bulbs per pot for rhizomatous varieties which spread more vigorously. These varieties will also need to be divided every couple of years to prevent them from becoming root bound. Make sure the pot has plenty of drainage holes as anemones don’t like waterlogged soil, and use a loose, rich, free draining potting mix.
In their natural woodland habitat, anemones are used to rich and fertile soil that is full of organic matter. You can replicate this in your garden by incorporating plenty of nutrient-rich compost and organic matter in the beds and borders where you want to plant your anemones. Additional organic matter will also help with drainage, which is important since anemones don’t like to have very wet feet. If you have very heavy clay soil, consider adding extra drainage materials like grit or perlite before planting your anemones. Anemones will thrive best in soil with a slightly acidic pH level, although this isn’t essential.
Anemones will appreciate light but regular waterings whilst they are young. As they mature, the natural rain cycle may be sufficient for them, although they will need extra watering if you live in a normally hot, dry climate or during any periods of drought. When watering anemones, do it slowly so the soil and roots have plenty of time to absorb all the moisture. Container-grown anemones will need more regular watering than anemones grown in ground beds.
Your anemones won’t need any additional water once they enter dormancy, although their dormant period will vary from species to species. Spring bloomers will become dormant in summer, whilst later bloomers don’t become dormant until autumn. When the flowers begin to drop and the foliage dies back it means your anemones are entering dormancy.
Anemones are happiest when positioned in partial shade, but in cool northern climates, they may be able to tolerate full sun. Spring blooming varieties are less sun-tolerant than later blooming varieties. For the more sun-shy varieties, try to select somewhere with dappled light which mimics their natural woodland habitat, or at least a spot that is shaded from the sun’s rays during the hottest part of the day.
Temperature and humidity
Anemones like a moderate temperature of around 20°C during the daytime, but this will vary slightly depending on the species. They are relatively unfussy as far as humidity levels are concerned. In nature, they are found both in humid woodlands and drier meadow areas.
Anemones are pleasantly low maintenance when it comes to pruning. You can deadhead any fading flowers, but this isn’t essential since they don’t have an extended flowering season so it won’t promote longevity.
Anemones are not a particularly hungry plant and don’t require any additional nutrients in order to produce blooms, provided they are grown in fertile soil. You can add bone meal to the soil during spring to give them a boost if you wish. Anemones grown in containers will benefit from some all-purpose food once or twice in spring and summer.
Anemones will spread naturally from their underground root systems, and rhizomatous species especially can spread fairly quickly. However, you may wish to propagate them for planting in a different position or to contain their population from unruly expansion.
The easiest way to propagate anemones is by division. Once the foliage begins to die back in the autumn, lift the anemone with its corms and root clumps intact. Shake off the soil and carefully tease out the roots and culms into two or three separate clumps, each with a healthy root system. Depending on the variety you are propagating from, these can either be replanted immediately or stored in a cool dry place over winter for planting in spring.
Anemones need very little attention over winter since they are perennial flowers and most varieties are frost hardy down to around -4°C. When the foliage begins to fade, you can cut the stems and foliage right down almost to ground level ready for new growth to begin in the spring. If you live in a very cool northern climate you should mulch around the base of your anemones to protect them against the harshest weather.
If you live in a very wet climate, you may want to lift the bulbs and store them in a cool, dark, dry place indoors to prevent the corms from rotting in waterlogged soil. Once the soil begins to dry out in spring, you can soak and replant the culms. Container-grown anemones can simply be moved to a shed or garage in the pot over winter.
Can anemones be grown indoors?
Theoretically, it is possible to keep anemones as houseplants, although they tend to do much better when grown outdoors in conditions that mimic their natural habitats. If you are desperate to bring your beautiful anemones indoors, they make stunning cut flowers in an indoor arrangement!
How long do anemones last?
Depending on the species and growing conditions, your anemone may return each spring for many years, or it may be relatively short-lived, returning for just a few seasons.
Are anemones toxic?
Every part of an anemone plant is toxic, both to humans and animals, so they should be handled with care. This is because they contain a chemical called protoanemonin which can cause skin irritation or gastric problems if ingested, although you would have to consume a considerable amount of anemones to do severe damage.
Anemones truly bring so much to the garden with their effortless, elegant movement, huge variety of shapes, sizes, and colours, and blooms in almost every season. And they’re so low maintenance that they’re almost self-sufficient! It’s easy to see why these beauties are beloved by expert gardeners and novice hobbyists alike.
Anemones are a delightful addition to any garden, and now you know all there is to know about caring for them, how can you resist having a go at growing some for yourself?