April brings wood anemones to The Priory and about time too. Of all the wildflowers that were already here when I arrived, the gradual increase of anemones over the past ten years has given the best reward.
They have burgeoned in number using that simple – if obscure – technique of not strimming and mowing everything in sight, all year round. By leaving areas of the grounds uncut for most of the growing season, I try to encourage most wildflowers. If not ragwort, dock and thistle; then bluebell, orchid, scabious and anemone.
In their preferred habitat – deciduous woodland with enough sunlight to coax open the flowers – Anemone nemorosa line The Priory’s driveway. Study the flowers first thing in the morning and the petals will be furled; but as soon as the sun appears they open up their pale beauty.
On the wooded bank below the greenhouses, there are now several hundred flowers where, ten years ago, there was but a handful. As I only strim this north facing slope in late autumn rather than from spring onwards – as was done – they have come forth and multiplied.
Flowering early in the year before the tree canopy shuts out the light, the plant will slowly die back as that light is cut off. But in the meantime, the anemone is perfect.
The flower has soft yellow stamens and six white petals sometimes flushed with pink; above cut palmate leaves. The latter have, so I’ve read, a musky smell. This suggests one of the plant’s common names, smell fox. I can’t vouch whether that is an accurate name, but then I rarely get on my knees to sniff low-lying foliage … nor indeed sniff foxes. Still, it’s a good name and better than fox smell would have been.
In England, wood anemones spread mainly by rhizome (underground stem) rather than seed. I’m surprised that I haven’t thought to transplant pieces of rhizome to help speed up its colonization and introduce the plant to new areas. It is a slow, patient spreader (though Wikipedia says otherwise) and I could easily have helped it to do so faster. There is a spot under oak and ash on the meadow which would suit them beautifully.
As well as smell fox, Anemone nemorosa is called wood crowfoot, lady’s nightcap, helmet flower and thimble weed. Welsh has it as Blodyn gwynt. In French, it is Anémone des bois, in German Buschwindröschen and in Dutch Bosanemoon. In Iceland, it is called Skógarsóley but I think Finnish noses ahead in the naming stakes with Valkovuokko.* (Pronunciation help not on offer).
Another English name for the wood anemone is wind flower which is easily explained when you see a carpet of them nodding in the breeze.
Like this slowly increasing white carpet on the east lawn. Other than a path through to the bridge, I don’t mow it during spring and summer.
My time at The Priory is drawing to a close – and I shall write more about that in the coming weeks. But after I have left, I hope that one of my legacies will be the continued spread of smell fox.
*Thanks to Encyclopedia of Life for these names.