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AURICULA PRIMROSES

When we think of primroses, the first thing that comes to mind are the ‘Pacific Giant’ hybrid primroses we see in garden centers.  Actually hundreds of species of Primula are in existence, and some species have been brought into gardens and significantly developed.  The auricula primroses, members of the species P. auricula, have been grown in gardens since the 1500s.  They have evergreen leaves that curl around in a way that resembles the ear of a bear.  When first cultivated, they were called ‘Bear’s Ears’.  Charles l’Ecluse (known as Clusius) is the first person known to have grown auriculas in a garden.  This was after 1573; he grew two kinds.  The first auriculas grown in England are illustrated first left above, in a woodcut from Gerard’s Great Herbal of 1596.  By 1639, at least 15 different colors and even striped forms were grown.  Auriculas were a popular plant beginning in the early eighteenth century when keen collectors began to grow and exhibit them in competitions.  These growers were called ‘florists’.  Several specialized classes of auriculas came into existence over the following centuries.  Potted plants were (and still are) exhibited in flower on black painted shelves in a stage-like display.  The black background highlights the beautiful colors of the flowers.  Auriculas do have an extremely wide color range, much greater than practically every other kind of flower.  The second picture shows a tawny-colored auricula, a color popular in the 1600s.  Auriculas were extremely popular in the nineteenth century, but curiously, are not well-known today.

Auriculas are native to the Alps and prefer gritty, moist, well-drained soil with a good amount of humus.  They are tolerant of alkalinity and extremely winter hardy to USDA climate zone 3, or even zone 2 if covered with snow all winter.  This means they are perfectly suited to growing all over Montana.  They are shade plants, especially when grown at lower altitudes.  The individual plants are small, only about 8 to 12 inches tall when blooming.  The engraving third from left depicts a garden auricula from 1908.  A gardener must watch that vigorous neighboring plants do not overtake them.  Being evergreen, they grow rather slowly.  I found that a mulch of sharp grit, about the diameter of turkey grit, is excellent for them and will discourage slugs.  Auriculas thrive when grown organically and enjoy soil amendments such as bone meal, composted manure, kelp meal, wood ashes, and grit for excellent drainage.

The classes of exhibition auriculas are usually grown in pots and are smaller and less vigorous than garden auriculas.  The pots used to grow them are taller than average, as the plants have a long tap root.  Growers commonly use an organic soil potting mix with added grit, bone meal and wood ashes.  Grit is especially important for drainage, but also for itsmineral content.  Indeed, the flowers have a wonderful mineral-floral fragrance unlike any other.  The last picture above shows a double exhibition auricula.

Auriculas are available from specialist growers as plants or seed.  I grow mine from seed planted in a fine, fast-draining seedling mix, covered with glass and placed in a shaded cold frame.  I plant seeds in late fall or winter, so the seeds have a cold period before they sprout in the spring.  The plants are usually large enough to pot on by midsummer.  Mature plants are best divided  midsummer.  I would urge gardeners to try auriculas; they are beautiful and rewarding to grow.  If grown in the garden, they might be best appreciated in raised beds, where their delicate flowers can be observed.

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SOME HARDY FLOWERING SHRUBS

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SOME HEIRLOOM AND NEWER HARDY SHRUBS

I wish I had more pictures to illustrate this article; but I include a few of hardy shrub roses.  All the shrubs described here grow well with organic gardening practices.

Flowering shrubs brighten our home gardens.  They bring beauty and fragrance while providing cover and nesting places for birds.  Listed below are a few shrubs well-adapted to the cold climates of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado.  Some of the plants described will grow in the northern prairie states.

Lilacs, especially the common and French lilac hybrids (Syringa vulgaris) appreciate our climate.  The flowers of common lilacs are soft, pale purple.  The bushes are tall, up to 20 feet when aged.  Once established, lilacs can really take care of themselves, tolerating cold winters and dry summers without care.  They flower more heavily if old bloom spikes are trimmed off, and plants are fertilized in the fall with bone meal, wood ashes and a light dusting of compost or manure.  Lilacs make a great hedge and deer tend to leave them alone, as the leaves have a bitter taste.

Shrub roses are terrific, hardy plants for our area.  The relatively new Canadian hybrid shrub roses are excellent.  Two Canadian-bred climbers, growing 10 to 12 feet, are ‘Henry Kelsey; with double red flowers; and ‘Champlain’ with bright pink flowers.  Both of these will not winter kill here and are hardy to USDA zone 3, so can be grown all over Montana.  Another repeat-blooming Canadian rose, growing 3 to 4 feet tall is ‘John Davis’, with double red blooms.  It makes a good bedding rose and is hardy to zone 4.  ‘John Davis’ would not require protection in Western Montana.

Some heirloom roses that do well in cold climates are described here:  ‘Suzanne’ a hardy rose from the 1930s, shown in the first two pictures above.  ‘Suzanne’ blooms in late spring with a wonderful display of color.   The plant is hardy to USDA zone 2.  Two other old roses frequently seen in the dry Western States are ‘Harison’s Yellow’ from the 1830s and “Austrian Copper’ (Rosa foetida bicolor).  Both are winter hardy to zone 4, bloom in late spring and are drought tolerant once established.  One occasionally sees other related roses, such as white Pimpinellifolia roses.  The third picture above was taken in a roadside garden of a farm house on the foothills of the Mission Mountains in Western Montana, USDA zone 4.  The plant was covered with flowers in late May-early June.  Pimpinellifolia roses  are very hardy, their ancestors originated in northern Scotland.  If you grow any of these once-blooming, drought tolerant, hardy shrub roses remember to place them in full sun and water well until established.

Our beautiful, ubiquitous wild rose, (Rosa woodsii) is shown in the last picture.  It makes a broad, suckering shrub useful for the edges of your garden.  It is drought and cold tolerant, but blooms only once a year, in mid spring.  Plants are sun-loving, but tolerate shade well, where they will grow taller.  Their foliage is healthy and the fragrance of the flowers is delightful.  The only other rose with a similar fragrance is the true ‘American Beauty’ a very rare hybrid perpetual rose.  I grew it once, and when cuttings were taken they failed to strike.  ‘American Beauty’ has infrastipular prickles, little thorns below the leave stipules, just like Rosa woodsii, which makes me surmise that ‘American Beauty’ may be descended in part from Rosa woodsii.  Keep in mind that roses often sold as ‘American Beauty’ are usually ‘Ulrich Brunner Fils’, a similar hybrid perpetual with no infrastipular prickles.

Silver Buffalo Berry (Sheperdia argentea) is a tough, drought tolerant native shrub growing 6 to 12 feet tall and wide.  It can spread by suckers, so give it room.  This sun-loving shrub is a good food plant for wildlife, providing red berries and protective cover for birds.  Buffalo Berry makes a sturdy hedge or windbreak requiring no care once established.  It is also very winter hardy, to USDA zone 2.

The shrubby Potentillas (Potentilla species) are drought tolerant, colorful shrubs frequently seen in public landscapes.  They are hardy native shrubs, growing 3 to 4 feet tall, available in several colors.  Potentillas tolerate drought and heat, but best of all, bloom all summer.  Full sun is best for them.  It is easy to shape your plants in the fall, trimming off the oldest stems.

Two native shrubs that prefer moisture and part shade are mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) and Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum).  Mock orange grows 8 to10 feet tall and produces deliciously scented flowers in late spring.  Rocky Mountain maple is a beautiful, small maple growing 6 to 10 feet tall, with dark red wood and golden fall color.  Both of these plants could be placed on the north side of a building where their roots would be in shade and tops in sun.  Be sure to leave 3 to 4 feet or more between the shrubs and the building.

 

 

Photographs of Historic Florist Pansies

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This week I thought I would show pictures of the Historic Florist pansies I grew from seed.  The top photo is of my pansy bed; the others show the diversity of blooms and colors of antique pansies.  The flowers are fragrant and almost all of the blooms have a “face”.  More information is available in my first blog on this WordPress site, which describes the origin of pansies in England during the 1830s.

This week I am moving to Montana from Oregon, so this blog is one day late and quite brief.  I will manage a new organic nursery and greenhouse—a new division of Westland Seed, Inc., Ronan, Montana.

Happy growing!

April Gardening Calendar

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April is another busy month for gardeners; usually a month characterized by ups and downs in temperature.  Keep watch for frosts; protect cold frames with mats if frosts are imminent, and admit air daily as weather permits.  Finish pruning fruit trees if not done, plant grapes; fertilize and prune blackberries.  Check your fruit trees and roses for pests as soon as they bud and leaf out and set out apple pest traps two weeks before bud break.  Weed and amend all your beds now while it is cool and moist.

Finish planting fruit trees, shrubs, roses, and perennials.  This month is a good time to direct sow (where they are to flower)seeds of several flowers: sweet alyssum, cornflowers, carnations, pinks, poppies, stocks, rose campion, Lychnis, columbines, valerian, honesty, foxglove, snapdragons, mignonette, larkspur, kiss-me-by-the-garden-gate and four-o’clocks.  Perennials still may be divided if weather has not become too warm.  Violets can be divided after blooming and cuttings taken of pansies.  Make cuttings of chrysanthemums, gauras, Helianthus, lupines, Lychnis, Liatris, knautias, saponarias, scutellarias and veronicas.  Dahlias and tigridias may be started inside in cold climates and planted out later after frosts are over, or planted outside if the soil temperature is above 60 degrees F.

Several vegetables can be direct sown if weather permits and it is not too cold: beets, arugula, carrots, caraway, celery, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, collards, mache, fava beans, cress, kale, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, rhubarb, turnip greens, onions, pasley, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, salsify, scallions, spinach and Swiss chard.  Sunflowers and tomatillos can be sown two weeks before the last expected frost.

Corn may be sown after April 15th in cool maritime northwest climates, or a week or two later in the inland and mountain areas.  Usually corn is sown about 10 days to two weeks before the last frost.  Native Americans of the Hidatsa tribe living in the Dakotas planted sunflowers first, then corn, and after frosts followed with beans and finally, squash.  Sunflowers were grown by themselves in a field, but corn, beans and squash were grown together; with corn in hills of 6-8 and beans and squash vining through.

Vegetables started last month indoors may be planted out this month: the brassicas, parsley, Asian greens, rhubarb and tomatoes; once frosts are over.

Prune established roses before bud break and seal the cuts with water-based glue or wood glue.  This prevents drilling wasps from injuring the canes.  Fertilize organically with Epsom salts, manure or compost, bone meal or rock phosphate, alfalfa meal and seaweed or wood ashes.

A few things maybe grafted now: grapes, hollies, pears, maples, pines and clematis.  Layers can be made of Cotoneaster, Cotinus, Hydrangea, Lavandula, Lonicera and Parthenocissus. 

Enjoy spring!

March Gardening Calendar

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This photo is of a double blue primrose seedling, blooming now in Corvallis, Oregon.

March is a very busy month for gardeners.  Root crops stored from the previous year and planned to produce seed can be planted out late in the month after the soil thaws (cabbages, celery, lettuce, leeks, onions, parsnips).  Planting time will arrive soon, or has already arrived for those of you in mild climates.  Weed and clean borders and vegetable beds, plant perennials, sow seeds of hardy annuals, plant rhubarb, asparagus, sea kale and artichokes.   Plant and/or prune cane fruits and fruit trees (cherries, apples, peaches, apricots, pears, plums, currants, gooseberries, etc.).  Check cold frames on a regular basis, venting as needed and closing the glazing panels at night.  Watch temperatures in the greenhouse also, as March is a month of ups and downs in temperature.  Manure and other organic soil amendments (epsom salts, seaweed meal, alfalfa meal, greensand, bone meal, compost and wood ashes) can be spread over vegetable, fruit, flower and rose beds.  Grape vines can be manured now, leaving space around the stem; treat roses in the same manner.

Many vegetables can be sown indoors now for transplanting out later: cole crops (brassicas), onions, lettuce, peppers, eggplant and leeks.  Some vegetables can be direct sown outside if weather permits and if your soil is not too wet to work: arugula, carrots, corn salad, fava beans, cress, mustard and turnip greens, onions, peas, radishes and spinach.  Celery and lettuce can be direct sown into frames.  Several vegetables and fruits can be transplanted now: raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, asparagus, horseradish, head lettuce, onion sets and plants and perennial herbs.  Make sure your mushroom beds do not get too wet; replace straw if wet.

Potted auricula primroses should be protected from rain and frosts; they will begin to bud soon.  Sow any remaining auricula and primrose seeds.  Herbaceous perennials can be divided and planted now.  Many hardy annual flowers may be sown during March: larkspur, sweet peas, lychnis, nigella, lavatera, poppies, kiss-me-by-the-garden-gate and sweet alyssum.  Inside the greenhouse sow: petunias, impatiens, pansies, alyssum, chrysanthemums, iceplants, portulacas, salvias, snapdragons, sweet Williams, ten-week stocks, mignonette, hesperis, Shasta daisies, hibiscus, lupine and Salvia x superba.

Roses and other shrubs may be layered now, and cuttings may be made of geraniums, myrtles and hydrangeas.  If you want to plant a hedge from seed, now is the time to sow seeds of hawthorns, stone fruits, roses and other hardy shrubs you might like to use.  The young plants can be transplanted out to their permanent positions later.

Happy Spring!

 

Some More Heirloom Early Spring Flowers

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I have several more wonderful heirloom flowers blooming here in Oregon in late February.  Tulipa schrenkii is shown in the first photograph.  It was introduced into Europe in 1608 from Turkey and is rare today.  The rather pointed petals are a warm red, margined with golden orange.  John Parkinson described and illustrated this tulip (though botanists have changed its name) in his great work A Garden of Pleasant Flowers, published in 1629.  He calls it “Tulipa pracox rubra oris luteia.  The early red tulipa with yellow edges, or the Duke.”  This species was an ancestor to the ‘Duc van Tol’ tulips, which were developed to be forced into bloom and sold, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Tulipa schrenkii is hardy in USDA zones 3-9.

Tulips are fairly easy to grow.  they prefer sandy or light soil, full sun, and a dry summer.  If you live in an area with rainfall in summer, you can dig them and store them in in netted bags or open boxes until October, then plant them again.  The bulbs will increase under such treatment.  I cover my bulbs with poultry netting to discourage cats from scratching the bed and squirrels from digging the bulbs.

The beautiful. fragrant Narcissus orientalis known in the nursery trade as ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ is illustrated I’m the second picture above.  This plant is illustrated in Parkinson as well, labeled ‘Narcissus Africanus aureus major.’  He compares it in size to the beautiful ‘Primrose Peerless’, and mentions that it is of “…exceeding sweet a sent”  (I have used the modern “s” instead of the antique “f” used in 1629).  Parkinson also mentions the “blackish brown coate or skinne” covering the bulbs.  This narcissus is forced in great quantities today and has a delicious scent.  Out of doors, it is hardy in USDA zones 8-10 and needs a dry summer as well, being native to northern Africa and Asia Minor.  I have grown this variety inside the house; in the low desert in California, and now here in Oregon (in the warmest, sunniest spot available).  It is beautiful and indispensable in my garden.

The third photograph depicts Vinca minor or periwinkle, just beginning to bloom here.  It has been grown since Roman times and Pliny refers to it as Pervinca.  Chaucer used the spelling “Pervinke”.  The plant is a vining groundcover with evergreen leaves and lovely blue flowers.  Periwinkle loves part shade and a moderate amount of water.  A white form exists, as  well as a double blue and a plum-colored single.  Vinca minor is hardy in USDA zones 4-10.

An important feature of these three plants is that they can be grown with moderate water, an important factor in the increasingly dry climate of the U.S.

Some of the First Flowering Bulbs of Spring

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The three flowers above are the first to bloom in my garden this year.  The first photo shows blooms (from left to right) of: Galanthus nivalis flore pleno, the double snowdrop; Iris reticulata; and Muscari botryoides, the grape hyacinth.  The snowdrop and the iris were planted last fall (2015) and the grape hyacinths were here in the garden from times past.

The double snowdrop is a beautiful flower, having rows of green and white petals that resemble the old-fashioned layered petticoats worn in the nineteenth century and before.  The single form was known in ancient times and is described by Theophrastus.  It is illustrated in Gerard’s The Herball of 1596 and was considered a type “bulbous violet” at that time.  The double form, illustrated above, occurred in  the eighteenth century.  It blooms slightly later than the single form, but is quite unusual and uncommon today.  G. nivalis is native to Europe and likes cool, rather moist conditions and cold winters (USDA zones 3-8).  I have mine planted in part shade under a Pieris tree.   Snowdrops have a faint, earthy fragrance and will begin to bloom as soon as the snow melts.

Iris reticulata, which does not seem to have a common or folk name, is native to Turkey, Iran and the Caucuses Mountains.  Bulbs reached Europe and North America in the mid-nineteenth century; nowadays several forms and colors are available.  The flowers have an unusual violet-like fragrance.  The plant is beautiful and undemanding, preferring full sun, rather alkaline, gritty soil and dry conditions in summer.   I. reticulata thrives in USDA zones 4-9 and multiplies well.

Muscari botryoides is the original “grape hyacinth” known since at least 1596 and is illustrated in Gerard’s Herball.  It resembles the commonly grown Muscari armeniacum, but blooms earlier.  It is hardier as well, growing in USDA zones 2-8.  M. botryoides has sterile upper flowers which are lighter in color than those below.  The flowers have a fragrance of honey.   M. botryoides has almost disappeared from modern bulb catalogs, but if you search, you may fnd it growing in old established gardens, or around abandoned home sites.  I am lucky that it was planted in the garden of my house, built in the 1920s.  The flowers are just opening here in mid-February.

SCENTED GERANIUMS (PELARGONIUMS)

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Scented plants were extremely popular in the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries.  People grew them in their gardens and on windowsills.  Today, bright colorful flowers hold the public’s interest and we do not often see plants grown primarily for their fragrance.  Scented geraniums (botanically classified as Pelargoniums), while not as showy as their modern hybrid cousins, the zonal (P. x hortorum) and Martha Washington (P. x domesticum) geraniums, are delightful and charming.  The scented varietes are attractive, easy to grow plants that release their fragrance when touched.

Scented geraniums are native to coastal South Africa.  The first plants to arrive in Europe were brought by Dutch traders in the sixteenth century.  Several species exist in the wild and hybridization has taken place over the long time since they were brought into cultivation.  The second picture from the top, above, is of P. graveolens, known as ‘True Rose’.   It dates to 1787 and is one of the oldest still grown today.  It has a healthy, robust habit and delightful rose scent.  ‘Grey Lady Plymouth’ is illustrated in the third photo from the top.  It dates from 1802 and is a P. graveolens hybrid with a rose, fruit and spice scent.  Its leaves are beautifully cut and margined with a thin white line. The very rare ‘Skeleton Rose’, also known as ‘Dr. Livingston’ is another old P. graveolens hybrid from the nineteenth century or earlier, with beautiful, deeply cut lemon and rose-scented foliage.  This variety seems to prefer soil with a lower pH (more acidic) than the others.  The top photo shows foliage and flowers of ‘Fair Ellen’ an old hybrid of P. quercifolium  and has, as you would expect from the Latin name, oak-shaped leaves, scented of rich fruit and spice.  The bottom photo shows potted scented geraniums wintering on a cool porch.  The plant on the right is ‘Skeleton Rose’.  On the left is the rather large velvet-leaved P. tomentosum known as ‘Peppermint’.  It has a true mint scent.  This variety is the most sensitive to heat and is the first to curl its leaves and wilt if it is in too hot a location.  Many more species and old hybrid scented geraniums exist, but they are hard to find.  I am collecting them as I come across them (and when I have the cash to buy them).  Many scents and hybrids were once available, including: apricot-scented, nutmeg-scented, filbert-scented, spice-scented, lemon-scented, apple-scented, almond-scented and orange-scented.  Louse Beebe Wilder, in her wonderful book ‘The Fragrant Path’, reprinted as ‘The Fragrant Garden’, mentions a person she knew as a child who owned a collection of over 100 varieties of scented geraniums.  In her book, she lists 18 species and hybrids still available years later— in 1932.  She complained that many had disappeared or were very hard to find.  This seems true today, though plants are available from two sources that I can recommend: Logee’s Greenhouses http://www.logees.com and Select Seeds http://www.selectseeds.com.  Both of these sources are in the eastern U.S.  Seed for scented species can sometimes be sourced; this season I have started seeds of P. grassularioides, the coconut-scented geranium.  Seed came from Terroir Seeds htpp://www.UnderwoodGardens.com.

Scented geraniums are not difficult to grow. They prefer a somewhat cool, sunny atmosphere and a medium level of humidity.  A sunny south facing window on a cool porch is very much to their liking in winter.  That season is a rest period for the plants.  Do not water them very much in winter, but let them almost wilt; then water.  I make an organic soil mix with compost, bone meal, greensand, wood ashes and sharp sand or perlite (1/4 to 1/3 part of the potting mix, for excellent drainage).  My plants really like this mix and I never need to fertilize.  In early spring growth begins and picks up speed into summer, so watering is increased.  It is best to let the plants become nearly dry— avoid overwatering.  During the heat and bright sun in summer, some of the plants may begin to flag, so it is best to put them in an east window or provide light shade and a cooler location.  I repot my scented geraniums once a year, unless growth warrants additional repotting.  Otherwise, it is best to do so in summer.  Softwood cuttings can be made anytime from April through July.  If a plant is repotted in early autumn, cuttings may be taken then also.

 

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!