YOU DO NOT want to treat Japanese anemones too well, but do give them decent, ordinary treatment in ordinary garden soil in nearby full sun.
It's true, however, that most gardeners want these splendid early-fall creatures to brighten a shady terrace or the edge of woodlands. I do.
And I used to apologize to these anemones by giving them nice surface dressings of rotted stable manure every winter and plenty of extra buckets of water in July and August. They responded to good treatment like a spaniel. Exactly like a spaniel, leaping up and bouncing all over the place. The year they exceeded shoulder height at flowering time was the year I resolved to cut out the extra feeding and watering. This year they are about four feet high, which is better, though I would prefer to have them 30 inches.
You may read, though not here, that these anemones do not require staking. They don't if they are grown hard and grown in full sun. But the shade of trees draws them up, and when a post-hurricane wind hits them in September, down they go. I never stake mine, but then the degree of the storm determines the angle at which they lean.
The blooms, like pink or white half-dollars, have no fragrance, but many are borne on branching stems and if you have big clumps in both pink and white you have flowers from late August till Oct. 20. Anemone japonica (as it is often listed) has no bug or fungal pests and is utterly carefree.
The plain single pink and the plain single white please me best, but there are perhaps a dozen named sorts, some of which are semi-double.
Other good flowers for fall are hostas, and H. tardiflora is a modest, if common, treasure. Its wiry stems of medium-violet trumpet-bells reach knee height or less -- considerably less if you grow them in the shade of maples and do not water them during dry spells. The leaves are lance-shaped and make a nice foot-wide rosette six inches high. This hosta is pretty, however modest, along a shady walk.
It may be thought a trifle unimaginative to edge an entire walk with it, and you might prefer having a three-foot stretch of it, then some epimediums and a little patch of fat-leaved bergenias or a thick clump of variegated lily-turf.
Also agreeable are the bugle-weeds in both green and bronze-leaf forms. They hug the ground and may be allowed to venture out a bit into the joints of a brick or stone walk, since they need virtually no soil to do this.
Apart from the low lavender hosta mentioned, there is the fat white-flowered H. subdordata grandiflora (not the right name but the name it is usually called) which has the largest individual flowers of the family. They are like smallish white amaryllis and the stem is about knee-height. The leaves are almost heart-shaped, the size of small plates and a stimulating light yellow-green.
Like most hostas they take a good bit of abuse, growing in unpromising shady dry spots under oaks. With plenty of water and good soil they are far more luxuriant.
There are two hybrids from this hosta commonly sold, and both are more graceful than the parent. 'Honey Bells' and 'Royal Standard' are both scented and have white flowers variably flushed with pale violet. How tall they are depends on whether you give them manure and lots of water. They may be 30 inches or more than 60 inches, depending.
I do not myself like them in rows, but admire them in a big clump (a single plant will make a clump four or five feet across in three or four years) against dark yews.
No doubt the heavens will fall on me since I am pleased to say my wild tree peony, the one from Tibet with small single yellow flowers (Paeonia lutea ludlowii) is slightly above waist height and its large, deeply cut, blue-green leaves look as flawless in late September as in May. Four or five previous attempts to grow it all failed. The plants put out nice leaves and then they ailed and after a year or two of this the plants died. It was a royal pain. I had to import the plants from England.
And I noticed this summer that the National Arboretum (which finally got round to planting this glorious creature) showed several specimens nearly dead. They looked just as mine did, and I do not expect theirs to live.
Why mine is (for the moment) flourishing, I cannot say. I treat it no better and no differently from the ones that all died. There is no reason it should be difficult. It grows like a weed in England, up to seven or nine feet. I love the flowers but many say they are insignificant and admire only the leaves.
There is no reason why such a lovely peony should be rare except that peony societies and peony nurserymen are not enterprising in the matter. Another century or two and we shall see it everywhere in Washington.