There are more more than 100 species of fritillaries and they are all irresistible, unfortunately many of them are tricky to grow. There are some that I have tried and lost.
I grow Fritillaria michailovskyi fresh every year in a pot because it is so pretty. I might risk planting it outside this year as I never seem to be able to keep it in the greenhouse. It comes from the mountainous regions of Turkey. I love its shiny, red bell-shaped flowers edged in bright yellow.
Fritillaria stenanthera needs the protection of a greenhouse or cold frame and even thought I nurtured it in a pot, I still managed to kill it.
Another beauty which I lost is Fritillaria pallidiflora, but to be fair this could be because I kept digging it up as I moved house four times in three years and the poor thing probably got dizzy; I can’t blame it, so did I.
Not only have I lost this next one but I cannot remember its name, but I think it is Fritillaria conica. The friend who gave it to me said it comes from Southern Greece so perhaps it got frostbite.
But fortunately, there are easy ones too. I always thought that this next one was called Fritillaria verticillata but I have discovered that this is a synonym and the correct name is Fritillaria thunbergii. Whatever its name, it is gorgeous and the clump gets bigger every year. With the long tendrils it looks like a climber and in the wild these tendrils are used to hold the plant steady where it grows in long grass. The bell-like flowers are cream with green veining. I believe they are grown in China and Japan as a remedy for coughs. I would rather put up with the cough and enjoy the flowers. It is easy to look after as it seems to thrive on neglect and resents a rich diet.
Fritillaria persica is an impressive sight as it grows so tall. It has beautiful dark purple bell-shaped flowers and it looks like a giant Grape Hyacinth. If you can find the cultivar ‘Adiyaman’ you will get a more substantial plant and more reliable flowering.
And what about the exotic Crown Imperials which are in every garden centre? They smell of fox, but never mind, they are very beautiful.
If you look inside the flowers you can see delicate veining and the the nectories look just like eyes.
Fritillaria acmopetala is a pretty thing with quite large flowers with slightly reflexed petals. They are striped green and reddish brown. It clumps up quite well.
The bizarrely named Fritillaria uva-vulpis which means ‘fox-grape’ comes from Iraq and Iran. I have read that it needs a hot dry summer and is best kept in a pot. It grows quite happily in my garden and the clump has got bigger.
I would love to say that this lovely group of Fritillaria pyranacia is in my garden. But it is not. My friend ‘M’ who has the greenest fingers in Suffolk grew it from seed. I shall be begging some seed so that I can try it too. Fritillary seeds are best sown when they are fresh and the seeds should be covered with a layer of grit. The downside is that they can take 5 to 6 years to bloom. But still they are worth the wait.
I will finish with what many consider to be the queen of the fritillaries, our native Fritillaria meleagris, the Snakes Head fritillary which is easy to find and seeds around if it is happy.
The checker board pattern is sometimes dark wine-coloured and sometimes pale pink.
And you can get a pure white one called ‘Aphrodite’. On this one the two flowers have fused to make one very large one.
It is not certain that Fritillaria meleagris is a native but it has been flourishing here for centuries. It used to grow in abundance on flood plains and meadows in the south of England. We are lucky that we have two fritillary meadows in Suffolk; the Fox Fritillary Meadow in Framsden and Mickfield Meadows. They are both protected and looked after by Suffolk Wildlife Trust.
Gerard called them ‘Ginny-hen Floures’ or ‘Checquered Daffodils‘ sic. He admired them just as much as we do and said they ‘are greatly esteemed for the beautifying of our gardens, and the bosoms of the beautifull’. Oh I don’t know about the second bit, my fritillaries aren’t going to find their way on to any bosoms.