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Timely rainfall brings welcome relief

Last weekend’s rainfall – the first sustained amount of rain to arrive after summer – was very welcome in the winter garden.

A few weeks ago, I sowed a new lawn at the back of the section – a rough area where an in-built swimming pool was removed. It normally takes about a week for newly sown grass seed to germinate, and I was a little worried about the warm days we experienced after I sowed. Fortunately, I was able to keep the new lawn relatively damp, so the germination was pretty good, but the rain at the weekend was just what it needed to kick it along.

Many of the plants in the back border alongside the new lawn were showing signs of stress – the perennial salvias were starting to wilt, and the dahlias were starting to show signs of a bad mildew infestation. Worryingly, the autumn-flowering anemones were also showing signs of bad water deprivation, and not flowering with their usual gusto.

These are usually referred to as Japanese anemones, and unlike their better-known cousins who flower in the spring, these plants are perennial. They make somewhat coarse foliage over the summer, then as autumn arrives, pop up stems of attractive flowers, either glistening white or a euphemistic “pink”.

I think the white ones are best – the Head Gardener has a good patch of them in one of her beds. As a testament to their robustness, they have somehow managed to cross a small grass pathway and have entered one of my perennial beds. They are now growing among a clutch of lily of the valley, and a deciduous day lily, Hemerocallis.

As the other perennials are leafless by this time of the year, I have allowed a few of the anemones to remain, but I keep a close eye on them, checking their aspirations to take over the whole bed.

I do not know if this variety has a cultivar name, but “white Japanese anemone” will find it. It grows to a little more than a metre high and has pure white single flowers. It is easy as chips to grow and can easily be divided up and shifted to new gardens.

I grow some of the smaller “pink” cultivar ‘Patinna’ in my back garden. It is growing in a fairly rough area where several perennials battle it out with the raspberry seedlings that appear there. It is as hardy as the white form but has doubled flowers. The doubling is slightly messy – don’t expect a flower like a rose or a symmetrical dahlia – but it is attractive enough.

The “pink” part of the description is a slight con as well. It is a very muted mauve-ish sort of pink. It does not seem to be as vigorous as the white form but is still very sturdy.

Of course, this is the time of year to plant the other anemones, the spring flowering bulbs. To be botanically correct, these “bulbs” are actually corms, but for gardeners, there is no functional difference.

These come in a range of colours – red, white, blue and pink – and either single or messy doubles. They are very reliable flowering plants, with each corm capable of producing 20-30 flowers.

They are relatively easily grown as long as a few fundamentals are followed.

They will arrive as dried-up corms, about the size of an acorn. Some experts say they should be chilled for a few weeks before planting but I have never found that this was needed.

They will do best if free draining soil in full sun. If you do not have that sort of position for them, they will also do well in containers, so you can plant them that way.

The key for planting is to push the corms into the soil, pointy end downwards to about 5cm. It does feel slightly wrong because, generally, bulbs are planted pointy side up, but in this case, the roots will develop from the pointy end.

Make sure they are well watered in, as the corm requires some moisture to kick it into growth. Keep the water level high until the new shoots appear, then taper it back a little, while keeping the soil moist.

Anemones make great picking flowers – we grew some last year specifically for that purpose. The flowers close up at nighttime, and it pays to let the flowers open and close a few times before picking them – they are more mature and will last longer in the vase.

After the spring flowering you can simply trim the foliage back and either harvest the corms or leave them in the soil for the following year. They tend not to do so well in the second season, so it is not a bad idea to buy a few corms each year – they are cheap enough.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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