Antique Florist Anemones

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The genus Anemone is a reasonably large one with 120+ species.  Here we will concentrate on three tuberous-rooted types that are native to the Mediterranean region: Anemone coronaria, A. pavonina, and A. hortensis.  These species cross readily.  Both wild and cultivated forms have large and beautiful flowers that last well when cut.  In the sixteenth century species and cultivated anemones were introduced to Western Europe through the development of trade with Constantinople (now known as Istanbul).  Turkish gardens at that time held many beautiful cultivated forms of anemones and these were valued almost as much as tulips.

The first picture above shows a page from Gerard’s The Herball of 1596At that time Anemone coronaria was called A. tenuifolia. (The modern A. tenuifolia is a species native to South Africa.)   Gerard had twelve forms of the species A. coronaria in addition to several other kinds of anemones.  The variation in the flowers of A. coronaria in its single to double forms can be seen in the woodcut.  The term anemone-flowered is derived from the shape of the flower on the lower right of the picture, which has longer outside petals with shorter petals in the center.

The second picture, also from Gerard’s The Herball, depicts Anemone latifolia, now called A. pavonina.  (I have not been able to find a picture of A. hortensis, which may be depicted in early herbals, but may have been listed under another name at that time.)  The botanical classification system devised by Carolus Linnaeus that we use today had not been created in 1596.  Since then botanists have renamed various plants over and over as they identify distinguishing characteristic of species.

The third picture is from The Garden of Pleasant Flowers, by John Parkinson, of 1629.  More garden forms of anemones were known by then and natural hybrids between the three species listed above increased the diversity of garden anemones.  Both Gerard and Parkinson grew named forms.  The popularity of these plants led to their development as florist plants, grown by specialist gardeners and displayed in pots at flower shows.  The word “florist’ has changed in usage; its meaning today refers to those who primarily sell cut flowers.  Anemones were at that time as well loved as tulips, polyanthus primroses and auricula primroses. The popularity of anemones peaked in the eighteenth century, when over 300 named varieties were known and sold.

Today, all of the old named anemones are gone.  Hybridization and selection in France in the 1800s created the ‘De Caen’ single-flowered type, descended primarily from A. pavonina.   ‘St. ‘Brigid’ double anemones were developed out of A. coronaria in Ireland in the 1880s.  Nowadays, these two strains represent the florist anemones in modern gardens.

The last two pictures above are examples of the modern strain of ‘St. Brigid’ anemones, from my own garden.  The tubers are hardy to USDA zone 7b when left in the ground over winter.  Gardeners in colder zones lift the bulbs and store them over winter, replanting them in spring.  The flowers and foliage do take some frost—the picture of foliage and buds above shows plants two weeks after heavy frosts down to 19 degrees F.  The plants need good drainage, sun, and not too much wet in summer.  In the Willamette valley we can grow them with little or no watering, yet they survive as perennial plants.  They do go dormant earlier in the season with this treatment.  Both ‘St. Brigid’ and ‘De Caen’ anemones bloom best (and all summer) with cool summer temperatures and regular watering.  The cut flowers are beautiful and colorful.  Several of the still life pastel paintings by Odilon Redon of France portray the exquisite beauty of these flowers.  Why not try growing some!

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