Japanese anemones flower in late-summer or autumn, producing simple saucers in white and various shades of pink. The flowers open from round, silk-covered buds and, in summer rain, these looks like pearls glistening in the border, so much so that I almost prefer the buds to the flowers.
Varieties vary in habit from tall and airy to more-compact so researching your varieties is important.
Whichever you grow, these simply shaped flowers fit into the autumnal palette of pinks and purples well and they can be grown in good light, or shade. Some stray and ramble and, when the plant hunter Robert Fortune (1812-1880) first saw A. hupehensis it was running between the tombstones of a Shanghai graveyard.
It was one of several long-lived, ethereal plants used to commemorate the dead.
In the garden setting some varieties seem to enjoy popping up through stonework or paving close to buildings or paths. It is a deer-resistant plant and it looks good in a wilder garden.
Read our suggestions for the best flowers for an autumn garden.
Where to plant
Japanese anemones, like many Asian plants, are used to summer rainfall and good winter drainage so these anemones need fertile soil that does not become waterlogged in winter. They can be grown in good light or shade, but be careful where you plant them as once established they are difficult to eradicate.
How to plant
When planting Japanese anemones add organic matter to the soil: this could be garden compost or well-rotted farmyard manure. This organic matter will add air and retain moisture in summer, but drain in winter.
Water them well for their first growing season (between April and August) so that they thrive. They can take time to establish, but once they do agree to grow, they can spread and run. In America, where summers are warmer, some regard these plants as thugs because they run and set seed. In cooler British gardens they are better behaved.
When they bloom
Japanese anemones bloom in late-summer and early autumn. Their buds are also very beautiful.
When to divide
Divide Japanese anemones as they start into growth in spring.
Most nurseries raise more plants by taking roots cutting. Lift the plant in late-autumn or winter and remove some of the thin brown roots. These are cut into sections and laid onto compost before being lightly covered. These can take months to begin to grow.
These thread-like roots not only allow the plant to spread, they make it hard to eradicate a plant once it’s established. So make sure you plant your Japanese anemones where you want them as, like oriental poppies, they are difficult to eradicate.
Hardy fuchsias mix well with the taller, rambling varieties of Japanese anemones, or they can be grown on their own.
The shorter varieties can be used in mixed borders so they pop up among penstemons, late-summer sedums, hardy geraniums and hardy salvias like S. microphylla 'Wild Watermelon'.
Find out how to grow penstemons.
Japanese anemone varieties
There are two main groups Anemone hupehensis and A. x hybrida and they are very muddled. A. hupehensis (and its variants) comes from Western China and was introduced here in 1908. Forms of this plant tend to flower in August, or perhaps earlier, and the plants are shorter, usually up to 90 cm, with vivid flowers in strong pink held just above the foliage. The single flowers can have five, or sometimes six, rounded petals, although there are more double forms.
The pink forms have darker backs. Sometimes two opposite petals are a darker pink and smaller than the others: this two-tone effect can be seen quite clearly on the single-flowered 'Bowles’ Pink' AGM and 'Hadspen Abundance' AGM (1980 -1990). Double forms seem to have name var japonica.
Good varieties of Anemone hupehensis
'Bowles' Pink' AGM
Slightly irregular, single flowers with a two-tone pink effect and much more willing to flower than the more modern, inappropriately named but similar, 'Hadspen Abundance'. Dark backs to the petals.
Very floriferous neatly formed semi-double with branching stems carrying rich, carmine-pink flowers, bred by Hans Simon in 1983. Originated as a seedling.
'Prinz Heinrich' AGM
Very deep-pink pink flowers, petals slightly ragged, but a good colour (1902).
Very similar in form to ‘Prinz Heinrich’ but the colour is said to be a little stronger (1968).
Anemone x hybrida
These are hybrid anemones derived from A. hupehensis and A. tomentosa. Plants are usually taller (possibly up to 5ft/ 150 cm but more typically 4ft/120 cm) often with only one flower held on a wiry single stem well above the foliage. Flowers appear in late-August or September (a full month later than A. hupehensis varieties) sand these tend to a gentler colour. These willowy plants ramble and pop up in different places, but this can be used to good advantage in borders as long as they are planted at the back. Then if they move they don’t leave a gap.
Good varieties of A. x hybrida
'Honorine Jobert' AGM
A single pure-white anemone with golden stamens and dark foliage (pictured above). Found as a seedling in 1858 in Monsieur Jobert's garden and introduced by Victoire Lemoine. Lovely in shade and much more refined than the semi-double American variety 'Whirlwind'.
'Königin Charlotte' AGM (Wilhelm Pfitzer 1898)
A vigorous semi-double silver-pink - quite a hard colour to place so best in shade. Curious green foliage, the edges of the lower leaves overlap.
An old variety (1932) that’s very free flowering with single rose-pink flowers, each with a green middle surrounded by neat ring of golden stamens.
Find out how to grow Japanese acers for autumn colour.