TOWARD THE end of August the first flowers appear on Anemone japonica (as it is commonly called) or the Japanese anemone.

The wild plant appears to have come from Hupeh in western China, and Robert Fortune introduced it to England in 1844 from Shanghai gardens where he saw it growing.

It is one of the most important of garden flowers in temperature gardens, flowering from August into October on neat wiry stems that vary from waist to shoulder height. The flowers, each on its little stem, are about two inches wide, either white or mauve-madder-carmine. Usually there is a single row of petals, but in some sorts the blooms are double.

Theoretically these stems do not need to be staked, but in practice they do.

Thim metal stakes are least obstructive, and sometimes the tall flower stems can be lightly tied with string to a fence or other support so stakes are not necessary at all.

Also when grown in full sun in an open border, most varieties of this amemone stand up fine, without attention.

But one of the great virtures of the plant is that it flowers in shade, and in such a spot the stems lean about and flop over, just when coming into full bloom, so some provision may well be thought of to keep them upright.

There is a white variety, called 'japonica alba' or 'Honorine Joubert' which is supposed to have occured as a sport from the rose variety in France about 1860.

I should add that in the American nursery trade the variety of Japanese anemone (like many other plants) are often mislabeled.

Since all the single sorts are beautiful, it may make no difference to the gardner, though it is disconcerting to discover that the "alba" sorts turn out pink, or vice versa.

The flowers, like small saucers, have five petals or so, and the whole plant has that wonderful air of both vigor and refinement that is especially welcome in late summer when most things are blowsy.

The plant is soundly perennial, and spreads a bit, wandering into its neighbors' turf occasionally, but it could hardly be called invasive and even if it were, there aren't that many flowers of great elegance that spread about. i

Often in small town gardens there may be a box bush growing in dappled shade, and this anemone looks splendid planted nearby, its flowers seen against the box. I also like it by garden pools, where its flowers are especially welcome as the hardy water lilies slow down for the season.

Often there is a small place to sit, paved with brick or stone or gravel, and the garden often is nothing more than an outdoor room with maybe one tree and a handful of plants and a water basin.

In such a garden, if there are flowers at all, they should be blessed with good foliage, handsome growth habits, and they should be beautiful enough to deserve their setting as jewels. I would not give space in such a garden to rudbeckias, neon-colored roses, languishing geraniums or coarse annuals barely alive.

Japanese anemones, blooming for several weeks at a time little else is in flower (little else that is very beautiful), are an especially good choice in small gardens. The late-blooming bugbanes (Cimicifuga) are also worth a space, and if there is a bit more sun than you find under trees and walls, the Sternbergia (like a large gold crocus and the fall crocuses (especially Crocus speciosus, in various tints of blue-lavander) are wonderful.

When they settle in, the wild cyclamens (especially C. neapolitanum) are flawless plants in the smallest gardens, since they stand up to the closest and most critical inspection, not only of their little flowers on four-inch stems, but also their leaves which stay green all winter. Sometimes beneath high-branch oaks these cyclamen make themselves at home, seeding about in the course of a few years, but again they may dwindle away. I've had them both ways.

People who are gone part of the summer, and who return in late August, should keep these flowers in mind, along with morning glories (if there is enough sun) and those hostas that only bloom in late August.It can be depressing to return to a garden of run-out petunias and marigolds.