Once established, Japanese anemones produce bright and abundant blooms on branching flower stalks in September and October.
When my friend Jane Wallace showed me a photograph of her Japanese anemones, I could hardly believe they bloomed in fall. When I think of autumn bloomers, I think of those rampant, raggedy end-of-the-season goldenrods, ironweed, asters and wild sunflowers. The anemones, with their delicate white blooms, looked more like spring wildflowers. Jane’s a magnificent gardener, with growing conditions similar to those I contend with: her gardens spill down a wooded hillside below her house to a river, in Sparta, N.C. Since my north-facing acre consists of a small clearing surrounded by woods, I was only too happy to accept her offer of a start from her Japanese anemones. A shade-loving fall-flowering plant that looks like spring? Who could resist?
Their first fall in residence, the anemones sent up a single two-three-foot branched flower stalk whose buds opened in late September. The bees and I were enchanted with the five-petaled saucer-shaped blooms, their pale green button centers fringed by yellow stamens. But the real treat came the next fall, after the anemones really took hold. Instead of a few flowers, there were dozens, on multiple flower stalks. They bloomed for weeks.
Jane warned me that the anemones would spread if they were happy, and mine did. Over the winter they sent their fibrous roots through much of the front yard bed they share with hostas I moved close to the house to keep the deer from devouring them. Since deer are supposed to dislike Japanese anemones, I transplanted a few to beds further removed from the house, a practice I discontinued after finding the front yard flower stalks stripped of leaves. Whether they will recover and bloom remains to be seen.
Japanese anemones aren’t Japanese at all, but are natives of the Hupeh province in eastern China, hence their scientific name, Anemone hupehensis. But they’ve been grown in Japanese gardens for centuries. They were introduced in Europe by Robert Fortune in 1844, where he discovered them naturalized between tombstones in a Shanghai cemetery. Mine are white, but there are pink – and semi-double and double – varieties as well.
Long-lived perennials once they are established, they can become, according to some sources, “almost thuggish” in their colonizing of spots that are to their liking. At the same time, most sources agree, they are somewhat difficult to establish because they dislike disturbance. My advice is to plant them initially where you can keep an eye on them; once they have established, relocate their offshoots to other shady locations where you’d like late fall flowers. Since their leaves are late to emerge in spring, be sure to mark the spot where you planted them so you won’t forget that that empty-looking spot is occupied. If you stake the blooms as I did, to keep them from flopping, just leave the stake in place over the winter.
ABOUT JAPANESE ANEMONES
• Japanese anemones should be planted in spring, in rich, friable soil in semi-shade. Work organic matter into the soil before you set the roots. Locate them where they can enjoy the protection of other plants, a wall or other shelter. They are sensitive to both drought and overwatering, so keep them watered, but not too much.
• Bloom period, which lasts several weeks, is from August through October. Mine reached greatest flower abundance, in the western North Carolina mountains, in early to mid-October last year.
• Japanese anemones are hardy in zones 4a to 8, and are members of the Buttercup family.
• Although the flowers look delicate, once established the plants can survive considerable neglect. Dark green, hairy foliage emerges in a clump from the plant’s crown in late spring; flower stalks are sent up in summer, on long, branching stems. Staking is sometimes necessary.