by George Papadelis
As fall approaches, more and more flower gardens find themselves losing their claim to brilliant color and graceful form. These qualities are inevitably exchanged for spent flower stems and tired foliage that is typical of the season’s end. Although there are many fall-blooming plants available, most remain severely underused; far fewer gardeners visit garden centers in the fall, and those that do rarely make it past the mums, pansies, and spring-blooming bulbs. Upon further examination, fall shoppers might also come across some other great performers. Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida) is one of the most rewarding late season plants available.
Several different types of anemones exist. Of these, the fall-blooming types play the most vital role in the garden. Flowering begins in August and may continue through mid-October. Just when many other summer bloomers have finished their show, the pink, rose, or white flowers of anemones burst into color above bold, textured leaves. Dozens of 2- to 4-inch wide flowers are produced on plants that may grow 2 to 4 feet tall. Flowers may be single or double and resemble those of Cosmos or Helleborus (lenten rose). Delicate petals radiate from a central green “button” on which showy yellow stamens are displayed. These clean, spring-like flowers may last 8 to 10 weeks in the garden, but may also be cut for a late season bouquet. Anemone flowers are produced on long stems that dance in the wind and thus provide graceful movement in your fall landscape.
The term “Japanese anemone” usually refers to three similar groups (species) of plants. The first is Anemone hupehensis which produces rose pink flowers earlier in August than most Japanese anemones. They also exhibit better heat and drought tolerance. Try the variety A. hupehensis ‘Prince Henry’ for deep rose, semi-double flowers on a compact, 2-foot tall plant.
The second group, Anemone vitifolia, is often represented by the variety ‘Robustissima.’ As the name implies, this one is a robust-growing plant between 3 and 4 feet tall when in flower. Blooms are bright pink and often begin flowering in late August or early September. The large, deeply veined leaves bear a distinct woolly gray underneath. Of the fall-blooming anemones, this one is also the least likely to suffer from any type of winter injury.
The third and largest group, Anemone x hybrida, is actually a cross (hybrid) between the previous two species. Anemone x hybrida includes many single and double varieties that vary in color from the purest white to nearly red. The most popular of these is ‘Honorine Jobert.’ It produces clusters of glowing white, single flowers above 3-foot tall plants. Anyone with a garden dedicated to white cannot afford to ignore ‘Honorine Jobert.’ A double-flowering white form called ‘Whirlwind’ is also very popular. For a wonderful pink, try ‘Queen Charlotte’ with 3-inch, semi-double flowers on 3-foot tall plants. For a single pink, try ‘September Charm,’ which only grows to about 2-1/2 feet in height.
Japanese anemones will tolerate a wide range of exposures from full sun to moderate shade. More sun will ensure the most flowers and aid the plant in maintaining an erect growth habit that rarely requires staking. In shade, the plants tend to lean towards the sun. Japanese anemones are not particular about soil, but will perform best in moist, fertile loam. They benefit from a loose mulch to help keep roots cool and moist.
In loose soil, Japanese anemones can become invasive. Depending on your situation, this can be a concern or it can make them a wonderful tall groundcover for planting in a naturalized area. Plants that exceed their boundary may be divided in spring. These new plants may require a year or two to reach flowering age.
Many fall-blooming perennials are available for striking combinations with your Japanese anemone. In more shade, try bugbane (Actaea or Cimicifuga) for a graceful white combo. The orchid-like flowers of toadlily (Tricyrtis) along with the deep blue, delphinium-like flowers of monkshood (Aconitum napellus) could also work in the shade. For more sun, try the many colors of fall-blooming asters which range from 12 to 42 inches in height. Chrysanthemum ‘Clara Curtis’ has pink, daisy-like flowers from July through September. Perhaps try a narrow, upright clump of metallic-blue foliage from the ornamental switch grass Panicum ‘Heavy Metal.’
When the temperatures are cooler, gardening becomes even more enjoyable and plants better tolerate being moved. As fall approaches, take a moment to evaluate your landscape and see where color is needed. Japanese anemones can extend your garden’s performance well into the fall. These graceful, colorful flowers are difficult to replace in the late season garden and deserve a space in almost every landscape.
George Papadelis is the owner of Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy.
At a glance: Japanese anemone
Botanical name: Anemone x hybrida (uh-NEM-oh-nee HI-brid-uh)
Plant type: Perennial
Plant size: 2-4 feet tall
Habit: Mounding, with erect flower stems
Hardiness: Zone 4
Flower color: White, pink, rose
Flower size: 2-4 inches across
Bloom period: Late summer and fall
Leaf color: Green
Leaf size: 4-8 inches long
Width: 3-5 inches
Light: Full sun to partial shade; flowering is best in full sun
Soil: Fertile, moist soil
Uses: Perennial border, tall groundcover
Companion plants: Asters, monkshood (Aconitum), mums, ornamental grasses, toadlily (Tricyrtis)
Remarks: Will tolerate shade, but will tend to lean toward the sun. Due to its spreading habit, can be used as a groundcover.