Alys Fowler: ‘I am particularly fond of wood anemones, because to me they express the joy of spring.’ Photograph: Alamy
Those first warm days of spring unfurl flowers, new leaves and me. I garden until everything aches. Then, wandering home through the tiny wood, I greet all the other things waking up. Hello, cow parsley seedlings; good afternoon, new chestnut leaves; welcome back, shiny blackberry growth. I love the prosaic as much as any, but I am particularly fond of wood anemones, because to me they express the joy of spring.
Wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa, is a native woodland plant. It unfurls, flowers and sets seed in roughly 12 weeks, and then spends summer asleep in a deep bed of leaf litter. On sunny days, the flowers rock back their heads and laugh, a pool of pure white with a centre of brilliant yellow stamens.
On harsh days, they lower their heads, draw in their petals and hide. This shy gesture is to protect their pollen, so beloved by early foraging solitary bees and so easily destroyed by rain. Clearly the bees do their job, because the plants do set seed, but most large colonies increase by the thin strands of rhizomes. You can buy these in autumn, and it is by far the cheapest way to grow them. Always soak them overnight before planting, so they establish quicker.
You may find pots for sale now, but don’t plant them just yet: wait until the flowers have gone and foliage has disappeared, then divide the rhizomes in half and replant. If you are brave, snap each rhizome into 3cm sections and repot into compost mixed with leaf mould, so one plant makes a colony. They want to spend spring in the open and go into a shaded slumber for summer. They will tolerate drier summer conditions as long as spring soils are wet but well drained. The rhizomes like to sit just beneath the soil surface, so bury them under mulch.
They prefer shade, but can cope in the open. They’re best off around the skirt of trees, shrubs or roses. My patch in the wood grows at the base of holly, because they don’t mind evergreen shade or, for that matter, the sort cast by a building.
There are numerous cultivars, all variants on the shades of palest pink, blue and lavender. A nemorosa ‘Robinsoniana’ is a large-flowered form with palest lavender-blue flowers. Many forms are double, and though these may be pretty, they are useless to bees, so keep a balance of both types. With luck you may find A x lipsiensis, which looks like a wood anemone. It’s a cross between the searing golden yellow A ranunculoides and the wood anemone. The petals are palest lemon yellow, as if bathed in sunlight.