Height 20-90cm (8-36in)
Planting distance 10-20cm (4-8in) unless otherwise stated
Flowers in spring and early summer
Sun or partial shade
Bulbs available in early and mid autumn Fritillaries are a large group of mainly spring-floweringwhose exquisite add charm to any garden. Bell-shaped and nodding, these are borne either in clusters atop robust stems or singly at intervals along thin but wiry stalks. Fritillaries range from the majestic crown imperial to the beguiling little snake’s head fritillary and more than repay the extra care they require. Sometimes difficult to establish and maintain, the species and varieties described here are among the easiest to cultivate.
Fritillaria acmopetala is one of the easier species. It grows 30-45cm (12-18in) tall and has narrow grey-green leaves. Each flower stem bears two or three solitary flowers in; they are pale green with maroon on the inner petals. Fritillaria imperialis, commonly known as crown imperial, carries clusters of large red, orange or yellow flowers. These appear in mid spring on 60-90cm (2-3ft) high stems. Each cluster of flowers has a crowning tuft of leaves to com- plete the beauty of a plant which has only one fault – an unpleasant foxy smell when the new growth appears in spring.
Crown fritillary looks best grown in groups among other herbaceous plants in a border, or in clumps on its own at focal points in the garden. Popular named varieties include ‘Aurea-marginata’ (orange-red flowers, and green leaves with distinct yellow margins); ‘Aurora’ (orange-yellow); ‘Lutea’ (golden-yellow); and ‘Rubra’ (deep red). Plant the bulbs 20-25cm (10-12in) apart. Fritillaria meleagris, commonly known as snake’s-head fritillary, has pairs of flowers resembling large drooping white bells heavily overlaid with purple chequering. They come out in late spring on 25-30cm (10-12in) high stems, accompanied by a few narrow grey-green leaves that contribute to the plants’ particularly delicate appearance.
Snake’s-head fritillary inhabits moist meadows in the wild, so in the garden it looks at home growing among rough grass. Other possible planting sites might be an undisturbed border, a peat gar- den, or bordering a garden pool. A white form (’Alba’) with green or pink chequering is also available and excellent for naturalizing. The two frequently cross-breed. Fritillaria michailovskyii grows about 20cm (8in) tall and is ideal for a cool shady position in the rock garden. It has solitary bell flowers in early to mid spring, maroon-purple with striking golden yellow rims. Fritillaria persica has loose spikes of small reddish or purple bells that appear in late spring. It has grey leaves and a twisted stem that reaches 60cm (2ft) high. Fritillaria pontica thrives in most gardens. It is 30cm (12in) tall and in late spring and early summer produces single flowers, lemon green suffused with brownish purple.
Plant all fritillaries immediately after purchase; handle the fleshy bulbs carefully as they deteriorate if bruised or damaged. Set them 10-15cm (4-6in) deep, except for F. imperialis whose large bulbs should be planted 20cm (8in) deep, and on their sides so that the hol- low crowns do not collect water – a layer of coarse sand beneath the bulbs improve.
Fritillaries are best grown in fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny or lightly shaded position where they can be left undisturbed for several years. F. meleagris prefers moist soil. Cut all stems back to the ground as they die back in early summer.
This can be done from seed but, as it takes six years to produce flowers, it is better to increase stock with new bulbs. Left undisturbed, snake’s-head fritillary seeds itself.
Pests and diseases