‘Royal Blue’ European Wood Anemone Is an Early Spring Gem

Fine Gardening – Issue 217
blue wood anemone
Photo: Buckley

Spring! There’s no time of year I like more. After I’ve been wallowing through the doldrums of winter for months, my anticipation is palpable. Waiting with bated breath for all the early-rising ephemerals to nose up in my woodland gardens and grace the brown, languorous earth is truly a jubilant time. One of my favorite groups of these early treasures is the anemones, particularly those of petite and delicate presentation such as Anemone nemorosa. This slowly creeping perennial is widely distributed throughout central and northern Europe and is comparable in abundance and gross form to the eastern North America native A. quinquefolia. While both are wonderful garden additions, the former exotic does offer significantly more variation in the dozens of cultivars available. Of the many I have grown, ‘Royal Blue’ is a particular standout.

In May this beauty brings strongly blue-lavender flowers to the fore here in Maine. The petals, narrow and finger-like, resemble little stars. While the blossoms steal the show, this species really deserves recognition for its fine (literal) foliage. Leaves emerge with nodding buds and unfurl as a deeply dissected canopy of toothy green leaflets.

I have tried this cultivar in full shade, in nearly full sun, and in all types of soil and moisture availability. Generally it keeps on keeping on, performing like a champ and blooming to beat the band in all locations. That said, the response to environmental stress (particularly drought or heat) is summer dormancy. ‘Royal Blue’ European wood anemone will almost certainly disappear by the end of August in New England, even in the coolest, wettest seasons. I have confused this early dormancy with death more than once, only to go digging and find the brown rhizomes surprisingly turgid and alive. When this sort of nap-time incursion accidentally occurs, I have just tucked the stems back into the soil (often forgetting to water, although I really should), and I see no ill effect for the disturbance.

With its slow, creeping habit and very short stature, this little wonder works well with many other shade plants. ‘Royal Blue’ is a great foil for broad-leaved perennials, including brunneras (Brunnera spp. and cvs., Zones 4–9), gingers (Asarum spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8), and small hostas (Hosta spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9). Many variations of European wood anemones are out there, including double forms and those with foliar color variants. All are worth a try, though ‘Royal Blue’ stands out for being truly a reliable gem.

‘Royal Blue’ European wood anemone

Royal Blue European wood anemone illustrated mature height and width

Anemone nemorosa ‘Royal Blue’

Zones: 4–9

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, humus-rich or sandy soil

Native range: Europe

Daniel Robarts, Ph.D., is the greenhouse coordinator and propagator for Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine.

Illustrations: Elara Tanguy


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