Crocus (Autumn-flowering) FRITILLARIA

The bell-like blooms of Fritillaria open in spring, hanging downwards from the top of upright stems which bear narrow leaves. There the family likenesses end – it is hard to believe that the stately Crown Imperial and the dainty Snake’s Head Fritillary are so closely related. Both of these plants are easy to grow-all they need is a site which is free-draining and receives some sunshine during the day. Every couple of years apply a mulch of well-rotted compost. This does not mean that Fritillarias are trouble-free – you can waste your money if you do not take care at planting time. The bulbs are composed of fleshy scales – do not let them dry out and handle carefully. Put some coarse sand in the planting hole and place the bulb sideways. Cover with sand and then replace the earth.

VARIETIES: F. meleagris (Snake’s Head Fritillary) is a plant for the rockery, front of the borderor naturalising in grass. Each 1 ft stem bears 1 or 2 pendent blooms – 1.5 in. bells with a distinctive chequered pattern of purple and white squares. There are several varieties – ‘Charon’ is white with dark purple squares and ‘Poseidon’ is pale purple with brown squares. It is a pity to growtheall-white varieties such as’Alba’and’Aphrodite’where the draught-board effect is lost. F. imperialis (Crown Imperial) is an imposing plant, quite unlike its close relative. At the top of each stout 3 ft stem is a cluster of pendent blooms – 2 in. cups in yellow, orange or red. The flower-head is unusual – the odour is best described as peculiar and there is a crown of short green leaves. This is certainly not a plant for the rockery – it belongs in the herbaceous or shrub border. There are other species of Fritillaria available but they have neither the hardiness nor the popularity of the pair described above. F. latifolia looks like a dwarf Snake’s Head Fritillary, and F. pallidiflora (1 ft) bears yellow flowers.

SITE AND SOIL: Any well-drained soil will do – thrives best in light shade.

PLANT DETAILS: Planting time September-November. Planting depth 5 in. (F. meleagris), 8 in. (F. imperialis).

Spacing: 6 in. (F. meleagris), 1.5 ft (F. imperialis). Height 1-3 ft.

Flowering period: April.

PROPAGATION: Divide clumps in summer every 4 years.

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