Wood anemones are early-flowering plants that carpet woods, copses and shady gardens in spring. Individually, the plants are elfin and demure but en masse, sparkling in the spring sunlight, they are a thrilling sight and the first portent of the season’s exuberance.
The principal member of the group is Anemone nemorosa, a British native that you would miss if you went looking for it in the woods on a grey day because the flowers close up when the skies are cloudy. As soon as the sun appears the flowers open wide and face upwards to bask in the light and warmth. The plant spreads by a system of thin, twig-like rhizomes that push through the leaf-litter on the woodland floor.
In most parts of the country the flowers are white but in central England many blue forms occur, and in Ireland blue forms often predominate. Nobody consciously breeds Anemone nemorosa, but the diversity of plants in the wild has provided rich pickings for eagle-eyed plant enthusiasts, and dozens of selections have been named.
Below is a selection of wood anemones for early-spring displays chosen by plantsman John Hoyland.
Anemone x lipsiensis ‘Vindobonensis’
An old cultivar from the Vienna woods. It has creamy-yellow flowers that appear in mid-April and which continue to the end of June. The new foliage has a red sheen. Height 18-20cm. Hardiness RHS H5.
Anemone ranunculoides ‘Frank Waley’
Another plant from the collection of Frank Waley, made a century ago. He selected it for having much larger flowers than the species. It is also more vigorous. Height 20cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 4a-8b.
Anemone ranunculoides ‘Laciniata’
Attractive, deeply cut leaves and reddish stems that hold the large flowers above the foliage. The flowers are a lustrous yellow, reminiscent of buttercups. It flowers in April and May. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 4a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Cedric’s Pink’
Like many pink-flowered forms, the flowers open white then develop a pink tinge before finishing a purple-pink. It is also one of the earliest to flower. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H7, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemonella thalictoides f. rosea
Often produces pink flowers, this selection has been named because the flowers are much darker than most. The plant is slow to develop and in ideal conditions reaches about 10cm tall. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 4a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Robinsoniana’
A cultivar that has stood the test of time. It is one that EA Bowles wrote about and is named for the gardener William Robinson. The flowers are a pale, washed-out, lavender blue. Height 20cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘La Rochanne’
A recent introduction from the Netherlands with almost-black foliage, that shows off the brightness of the flowers. Despite the dark foliage it produces lots of flowers. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Slack Top Pink’
Found as a seedling a decade ago by plantsman Michael Mitchell, and named after his Yorkshire nursery. Michael selected it for its open flowers and neat habit. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Ploeger’s Plena’
A vigorous cultivar that reputedly flowers much earlier than others, with mint-green and white bracts and white sepals. The same plant is also being sold as ‘Ploeger de Bilt’. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Stammerberg’
The name refers to the mountain in Austria where this cultivar was recently found. The sepals are finely cut, almost filigree, with a pale-pink sheen on the white background. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemonella thalictroides ‘Green Hurricane’
The curious green flowers nestle in the plant’s foliage and are easy to miss. Narrow, white petals develop into the shape of a child’s pinwheel. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 4a-8b.
Anemonella thalictroides ‘Snowflakes’
Introduced by Fernwood Nursery in Maine, USA, these elegant flowers look delicate but are tough enough to stand up to wind and rain during the blustery weather of April and May. Height 12cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa dark leaf form
Seedlings with dark foliage appear regularly in the wild and several nurseries sell forms with dark leaves. In general the flowers are simple, pure white, typical of the species. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemonella thalictroides f. rosea ‘Oscar Schoaf’
A delicate form with double, pink flowers, resembling a miniature pincushion. Found in a graveyard in Minnesota. Slow-growing so not often sold. Height 12cm. Hardiness RHS H6, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Flushing’
A vigorous cultivar that seems to spread more quickly than most others. The flower has a slightly nodding habit, which allows you to see the pink reverse of the flower. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Evelyn Meadows’
The original plant was found in the Picos de Europa mountains in Spain by galanthophile Richard Nutt. The foliage has a dark-purple sheen and the reverse of the petals is deep pink. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Glyncock Gold’
This was found by Brian Dockerill, a champion of variegated plants, and named after his village in Wales. The new foliage has a rusty-red edge and matures to olive green. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Bill Baker’s Pink
Pink-flowered forms are common in woodlands in central England, particularly Berkshire, where this one was found. The flowers have a lilac tinge when they open and fade to pink. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Salt and Pepper’
An unusual and rare cultivar, with a curious central boss of nectaries and stamens that have become petaloid, surrounded by white sepals edged in dark green, giving it a two-tone effect. Height 12cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Parlez Vous’
Despite the awfulness of the First World War in France, plantsman Frank Waley was able to botanise and found this cultivar in France. It is one of the most vigorous of the family. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Vestal’
A beautiful and robust cultivar with flowers that have a central white cushion made up of stamens that have become petaloid, sitting on a corona of white petals. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Bracteata Pleniflora’
No wood anemone could be called flamboyant but this one gets close. As its name suggests, the flower is a combination of bracts, which form an eye-catching ruff, and sepals. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Blue Eyes’
A beautiful but erratic plant, which in some years has a pronounced blue centre when the flower opens, in other years it is very faint. The blue always eventually fades to white. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Frenzy’
A curious flower where almost all the sepals, nectaries, tepals and bracts have transformed to become leaf-like. Although the flowers are variable, they always have a dark-purple stain in the centre. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Anemone nemorosa ‘Lismore Blue’
A floriferous cultivar from Ireland with a neat, compact habit and large, lavender-blue flowers. This was the preferred cultivar of the renowned plantsman Christopher Lloyd. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
You can find more information on hardiness ratings here.
Where to see and buy
Russell’s Nursery, Mill Hill, Baginton, Warwickshire CV8 3AG.
Tel 024 7667 3662, avondalenursery.co.uk
154 Ballyrobert Road, Ballyclare, Northern Ireland BT39 9RT.
Tel 028 9344 0101, ballyrobertgardens.com
Coldingham, Eyemouth, Berwickshire TD14 5TZ.
Tel 01890 771386,
Wimborne, Dorset BH21 4EA.
Tel 01202 883402,
Long Acre Plants
Southmarsh, nr Wincanton, Somerset BA9 8EX.
Tel 01963 32802,
Cottage Nursery, Moortown
Road, Market Rasen,
Lincolnshire LN7 6HX.
Tel 01472 851714,
*National Collection holders.