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 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.

Anemone nemorosa 'Stammerberg'

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.

The earliest of the anemones to flower is Anemone blanda. It is naturally variable but the flowers tend to be deep blue and, at up to 5cm across, much larger than those of Anemone nemorosa, with narrow sepals.

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What A group of shade-loving herbaceous perennials composed of several genera, although Anemone nemorosa is possibly the best known. 

Origins Woodlands and hedgerows in Europe and North America. Anemone blanda comes from the eastern Mediterranean.

Season Spring flowering plants that are dormant during the summer and autumn. Most flower March through to June.

Hardiness Tough plants that are hardy throughout all of the UK.

Size Most reach a height of between 12cm and 20cm, and can often form clumps that are several metres wide.

Conditions Moist but well-drained, humus-rich soil; part shade. Some species will tolerate drier conditions during the dormant period. 

Anemone nemorosa 'Flushing'

How to grow Anemone nemorosa and wood anemones

Where to grow wood anemones

Although in the wild Anemone nemorosa grows in even the densest woodland shade, it flowers more profusely in clearings where light reaches the woodland floor or in places where the trees have been recently coppiced. Similarly in the garden, anemones will flower in the shade cast by buildings or fences but flower most abundantly when growing around deciduous shrubs or among later-flowering perennials.

Woodland anemones look impressive in the garden when they carry the baton on from snowdrops, and can be planted to cover the soil under trees that later in the year would be too shaded for most plants. They are also perfect companions to magnolias and amelanchier, providing pools of flowers for the shrubs to float above.

As important as shade is moisture and humus. None of the woodland anemones thrive in either dry soils or very rich soils, which tend to produce plants with lots of foliage and not many flowers. The ideal open and friable soil can be achieved by adding lots of leaf mould or composted bark to the soil when you plant your anemones. Thereafter, when the plants are dormant, mulch the area every few years with a thick layer of leaf mould.

Anemone blanda will tolerate both chalky soils and a dry summer.

Anemone nemorosa 'Glynock Gold'

How to plant wood anemones

Nurseries sell Anemone nemorosa either as growing plants in small pots or as bare corms, which look like pieces of thin twig. I find that the plants that are pot grown establish more quickly and more reliably than the bare corms. Anemone blanda corms are much tougher and can be reliably bought as dried corms. Remember that anemones go dormant soon after they have finished flowering, so to avoid putting a fork or trowel through them when weeding it is a good idea to mark where they are.

Anemone nemorosa 'Blue Eyes'

Caring for wood anemones

After a few years the plants make a mat of thin rhizomes, which should be divided every few years if you want to create a carpet of the plants. Regular division will also ensure that your plants flower well and that you will have a few to pass on to friends. Simply dig the plant up when it is dormant, carefully tease the rhizomes apart and then replant the pieces.

Growing wood anemones in pots

The conventional wisdom – and one that I have followed – says that woodland anemones will not thrive in pots but Brian Ellis, nurseryman at Avondale Nursery in Warwickshire where the National Collection of Anemone nemorosa is held, assures me that this is not true. He grows the entire collection in large (10L) pots using ordinary multipurpose compost. Each year he strips away the soil at the top and at the bottom of the pot and replaces it with fresh compost that has a slow-release fertiliser added. Keep the pots well watered and in the shade, especially during the summer.

Wood anemone problems

In some years the plants are affected by powdery mildew or leaf spot. This can blemish the foliage but neither are fatal so not worth getting agitated about.

The prettiest Anemone nemorosa to grow

Anemone nemorosa 'Robinsoniana'

A cultivar that has stood the test of time, 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 '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.

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.

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 '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 almostall the sepals, nectaries, tepalsand bracts have transformed to become leaf-like. Although the flowers are variable, theyalways 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 and gardener Christopher Lloyd. Height 15cm. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 5a-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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

You can find more information on hardiness ratings here.

Where to see and buy

Avondale Nursery*
Russell’s Nursery, Mill Hill, Baginton, Warwickshire CV8 3AG.
Tel 024 7667 3662, avondalenursery.co.uk

Ballyrobert Gardens
154 Ballyrobert Road, Ballyclare, Northern Ireland BT39 9RT.
Tel 028 9344 0101, ballyrobertgardens.com

Edrom Nurseries
Coldingham, Eyemouth, Berwickshire TD14 5TZ.
Tel 01890 771386,

Kingston Lacy*
Wimborne, Dorset BH21 4EA.
Tel 01202 883402,

Long Acre Plants
Southmarsh, nr Wincanton, Somerset BA9 8EX.
Tel 01963 32802,

Pottertons Nursery
Cottage Nursery, Moortown
Road, Market Rasen,
Lincolnshire LN7 6HX.
Tel 01472 851714,


*National Collection holders


A former nurseryman, John now spends most of his time nurturing his own garden in the foothills of the French Pyrenees. He is Gardens Adviser to Glyndebourne and currently has gardening projects in the UK, Spain and France.