WASHINGTON -- With their soft, flexible stems and lightweight flowers, anemones bend, sway and swing in the gentlest breeze. Wind brings out their delicate beauty and disperses seeds; hence the English version of the Greek name, windflower. After the wind dies, anemones (pronounced ah-nem-uh-nees) often bloom again. The question has been asked since ancient times: Does the wind coax the flowers to open?
The earliest blooming anemone is the Greek windflower (Anemone blanda), which appears with the early daffodils. In this winter, being mild, we were lucky to see both flower in February. Greek windflower seldom rises above six inches, and its overlapping, lacy foliage spreads horizontally. This complements its usual companions, the more-upright early-season daffodils and tulips. As long as soil is deep and rich with organic matter, competition for nutrients does not seem fierce. But if the bed looks crowded after a few years, transplant some of the windflowers elsewhere.
The roots are tuberous, which qualifies the anemone as a bulbous plant. They transplant well when dug up in their entirety, but do this when you can see easily the top growth, either after stems emerge in early spring or after flowers are spent, usually in late April. Plant purchased roots in the fall. Soak the roots overnight to break dormancy. Greek windflowers have nine to 14 narrow, usually sharp-tipped, daisy-like petals, in sky or dark blue; shades of pink, mauve and white.
Technically, anemone petals are sepals (the outer covering of the calyx), and like many other sepals, they stay fresh up to 10 days, sometimes longer. After the sepals are gone, the plant carpets the ground, serving as a handsome dense ground cover and a fine filler. They are valuable because they thrive in partial shade, producing a large number of blooms year after year. They also make do with the sunlight of early spring, before trees towering above them leaf out.
The Greek windflower is a hardy perennial that spreads, by roots and seeds. However, Anemone coronaria (also known as florist's anemone) is not reliably hardy. But from late April to the end of May, the florist's anemone is also a splendid garden plant, offering brilliant colors, including stunning bicolors. The scarlets are particularly glorious. While the De Caen types have single flowers, the St. Brigid ones are semi-double. The florist's anemone has another great feature: a dramatic black center, often outlined in yellow. It grows as tall as 18 inches, making it a fine cut flower, hence its name.
Anemone enthusiasts extend the season by planting the dainty Anemone hupehensis japonica, also called Japanese anemone, and its numerous hybrids. These begin to bloom in mid-to-late summer or the fall. Those that start in early September can go on until the first light frost. The petals are rounded and overlapping, usually white or pink, with a yellow-orange center.
One popular cultivar, Honorine Jobert, offers numerous immaculate white flowers up to three inches in diameter, dancing atop three-foot stems. Queen Charlotte has semi-double pinkish-mauve flowers about the same size. As cut flowers, both look terrific and last long.
There is also a less-known Siberian species, Anemone sylvestris, which is a champion bloomer, going strong from mid-spring to mid-summer. The flowers are pure white and have a slight fragrance.