Winsome windflowers

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

One of the stars of the early autumn garden is surely the perennial plant known as the Japanese windflower ( Anemone x hybrida, Anemone hupehensis). At the end of February, firm stems up to 1m or more tall, holding clusters of plump buds, arise from basal clumps of grapevine-like leaves. These buds open in March and April to simple but beautiful cup-shaped flowers in shades of pale pink, darker pinks or white, with single or double rows of silken petals. The single white form is possibly the most graceful in its elegant simplicity as the flowers hover in the air high above the foliage like exotic moths, but all the windflower cultivars are lovely.

Originating in China, these perennials have been bred over the years to produce a wide range of named cultivars, although often they are sold in nurseries simply described by colour and form. 'Honorine Jobert' is the classic single white windflower; 'Whirlwind' is a semi-double flowered white version; 'Bowles Pink' is a beautiful single form with deep rosy pink petals edged in white; 'Margaret' is a deep pink semi-double type; and 'September Charm' has a pale pink single flower.

Japanese windflowers grow reasonably well in Sydney and their preference is for a part-shaded situation. They do appreciate a soil enriched with organic matter, and reasonable moisture in order to get established, but once they are ensconced, they can cope with drier conditions, and are in fact almost impossible to get rid of! They do have a tendency to spread, via a creeping rootstock, but they can be controlled with a shovel and should be sited in the first instance in a place where their encroaching habit is not going to smother small treasures or cause problems. Propagation is traditionally by root-cuttings, but small rooted runners can often be successfully potted up. Although Japanese windflowers are forgiving plants once established, they do respond gratefully to any organic mulch or fertiliser they are given, as well as an occasional good soaking. It is best to feed and mulch them in late winter before fresh growth begins to burgeon in spring.

A white windflower with a variegated hydrangea

A home in informal parts of the garden amongst small trees or shrubs is probably the best idea, and one excellent companion for them is the mop-headed Hydrangea. The windflowers can wander amongst these robust shrubs without causing any mischief, and their blooms mingle well with any late-blooming blue, pink or white Hydrangea flower heads as well as the ageing ones as they slowly metamorphose through strange greenish-pink, midnight-blue and murky purple colours on their way to senescence. The large leaves of the Hydrangea also provide a lush green backdrop against which the windflowers are well displayed

Windflowers also look appropriate roaming through lightly shaded spots with Camellia sasanqua, which are in full bloom at this time, in a similar range of colours to the windflowers, and with the same simple flower form. Some of the many beautiful autumn-flowering Plectranthus species and cultivars now available also combine wonderfully well with the windflowers.