Anemone coronaria: six of the best
Anemone coronaria has been my favourite flower since I was a child, and I’ve grown them in all my previous gardens, in Scotland and in Spain. So, when I moved to Canada in late 2021, the first thing I wanted to add to my new garden in Victoria was anemones. I picked my first bunch in April and suddenly I felt at home.
They don’t seem to be widely grown here, and the ones I saw at Butchart Gardens were – dare I say it – decidedly anemic specimens, with yellowing leaves and wishy-washy flowers. My guess is that the problem lies with the watering. I have a watering system for the first time in my life, and I can’t say we’re getting along well. I imagine they are great if you have primarily shrubs, but they make an awful mess of flowers and surely encourage all sorts of fungal diseases in climates like this where the nights are so cool. The anemones I planted in a bed where one of these systems was in place have done badly (yellowing leaves, dying back) while those in dry beds and pots have flourished. A. coronaria is of Mediterranean origin and will certainly languish if half-drowned every night.
At their best, anemones should have deep green finely cut foliage, and intensely coloured flowers. Nothing beats them for a cut flower in the spring. Given the right conditions, each anemone tuber should produce 20 flowers with a vase life, depending on variety, of up to two glorious weeks.
The de Caen Group, introduced in France in 1848, has been the standard until quite recently. Many of these are still available, including favourites such as ‘The Bride’, ‘Bordeaux’, and the unfortunately named ‘Mister Fokker’, with his shimmering deep blue petals and sooty center. (I notice that in North America he is perhaps wisely just called ‘Blue Poppy’.)
The St Brigid Group, a double, is another older series still widely available – although often only in a mix of colours. Since for me the whole charm of the anemone lies in its simplicity, I much prefer the singles. Doubles lean too much towards the frilly knickers school of gardening.
While these traditional anemones are still widely grown – perhaps partly because they are the cheapest and most easily available – several new varieties have been developed that offer longer stems, larger flowers, higher yield, and longer vase life.
Some of the new varieties can produce very large flowers. This is Mistral ‘Grape’ (top) with de Caen ‘Sylphide’ (below). Oddly, the Mistral tuber was much smaller (size 2/3) than the de Caen tuber.
Yodfat’s nursery in Israel has introduced the Carmel, Fullstar, Galilee, and Rainbow series. Many are available only to professional growers, but there are exceptions, including the very beautiful Rainbow ‘Blue’ or Rainbow ‘Blueberry’, and the Fullstar Group, a double which – in the blue form at least – I have to admit isn’t half bad. From Italy another more recent introduction is Biancheri’s Mistral Group, with large silky flowers in a wide array of very pretty colours. The notable exception is the garish red and white striped ‘Tigre’, which looks like an upended strawberry sundae and should be avoided at all costs.
Six of the best
I’ve grown every kind of A. coronaria I’ve been able to find, and there are very few I really don’t like, but these have been my six favourites this year, all reliable good growers. There are no mixes on this list as experience suggests they are too often a way of selling off all the muddy colours no one wants. That said, I do look forward to trying Mistral’s ‘Rarity’, which comes in shades of lavender, lilac and pale pink, and looks very promising. And there is no pink. If I have anything negative to say about A. coronaria, it’s that the pinks screech. I’m still looking for that elusive pink I will love without reservation, and I have high hopes for one I haven’t yet tried, Mistral’s ‘Rosa Chiaro’, which is supposed to come in the softest possible shades of creamy pink. But, for now, these are my six recommendations.
I’ll always have a soft spot for ‘Mister Fokker’; he was typically the first flower of the new year in my Menorcan garden, sometimes even blooming at Christmas. But he has been upstaged by the anemone on the top of my list: Mistral’s ‘Blu’. This is surely the most sumptuous blue anemone ever bred: it has rich and dramatic saturated colour, velvety petals, an eye-catching centre, and is early to bloom and very prolific. If you want a blue anemone, this is it.
‘Bordeaux’ is a stunner. The de Caen version has a relatively small flower – but what a flower: velvety deep wine red with a purple eye and black stamens, you just want to stroke it. Not surprising that other breeders have produced their own larger versions of ‘Bordeaux’, and all of them are good. This anemone also dies beautifully, a quality not to be sniffed at in a cut flower. The ‘Bordeaux’ in the above photo were twelve days old and starting to crinkle but still looking fabulous.
3 Rainbow ‘Blue’ / ‘Blueberry‘
Known in Europe as Rainbow ‘Blue’ and in North America as Rainbow ‘Blueberry’, this is another of Yodfat’s introductions that is widely available to non-professional growers, and it’s a beauty. With white petals, a vibrant violet blue eye, and black centre, it looks super on its own, but also mixes well with the plain blues. I’ve also found this one long flowering and very floriferous, and it grows particularly well in pots.
4 ‘Blanco Centro Negro’
This introduction from Biancheri’s Italian Mistral Group is one of the most striking of all anemones, with its crisp white petals and a deep black centre surrounded by black lash-like anthers. In North America, Carmel White is more easily available, but doesn’t have as much punch as the very trendy ‘Blanco Centro Negro’. It even featured in Italian Vogue a few years ago. This has an exceptional vase life, often lasting over two weeks.
5 ‘The Bride’
While I love the black and white contrast of ‘Blanco Centro Negro’, I still think the traditional white de Caen ‘The Bride’ is a gorgeous flower. Softer than the former, its pure white papery petals and delicate green centre means it remains the best bet for bridal bouquets.
6 ‘Fullstar Blue’
So here it is: despite all my complaining about frilly knicker doubles, Fullstar ‘Blue’ makes my list. The pink and white in the Fullstar series don’t work for me at all, but Full Star ‘Blue’ is simply lush. It’s a beautiful colour and each flower lasts ages. I’ve had a pot of these in flower since mid-April and it is now mid-June, and there are still buds coming up. It has turned out to be one of the most floriferous anemones I have ever grown, giving lie to the usual claim that double anemones are stingy with their blooms.
A. coronaria for cutting
Much as I love a drift of anemones in the garden, I love them even more in a vase in the house. They don’t need any special arranging. Even if you just plonk some in a jam jar, they will look good.
When the flower first appears, its head is bowed. Wait until it points up, the sepals open enough to form a ruff, and the flower bud just starts to unfurl. This is the perfect moment for picking. Cut the stem at the base of the plant and watch you don’t nick any new buds starting to emerge.
Picked at this stage, anemones should have a vase life of 10 days to two weeks, depending on variety. Cut the stems on the diagonal for best hydration. They are heavy drinkers and vase life will increase if you remember to give them fresh water each day and keep them away from direct sunlight and heat sources.
While most of the anemones I’ve listed are widely available, if you’re looking for some of the more unusual varieties, you will need to use mail order.
US Plantgem has a good selection of Jerusalem and Mistral anemones
Canada: Only a few unusual varieties are available here in Canada for retail sales at the moment. (I’m beginning to notice a trend here. Why are so few unusual plants available in Canada?) However, Antonio Valente of Antonio Valente Flowers tells me he will be restocking Mistral anemones and they should be on the website in late September. They really are worth it, and last year he stocked both ‘Rosa Chiaro’ and ‘Rarity’ among others. If anyone in Canada knows of other sources for more unusual anemones, I’d love to know.
UK and Europe: Farmer Gracy has an extensive selection of Mistral anemones, available autumn and spring. This was my very favourite online bulb company when I lived in Spain. A huge variety of the strange and unusual. Sarah Raven offers a small selection of Jerusalem anemones.
A post on growing anemones and ranunculus will appear soon.
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