Fritillaries are very charming additions to the spring garden, adding a quiet beauty which is in contrast with the exuberance
of other spring bulbs. They are closely related to the lilies and look somewhat like wildflowers because they have not been
hybridized and “improved” as the tulips and daffodils have been.
grow them well, the gardener should remember certain things they need. For example, very few bulbs like wet feet at any time
and Fritillaries, especially, appreciate fast-draining soils. In my garden, on a north-facing slope, I grow them in sunny
These raised beds also house thirsty shrubs which drink
up all extra water after the fritillaries bloom. I also grow them in container gardens. They are like many plants: give them
a decent place to grow and they will thrive, fuss with them too much and they may go off to “greener” pastures.
All fritillaries (and many other bulbs) should be planted the following way: Dig a hole at least four inches deeper
than the bulb requires, pour in four inches of drainage material such as small gravel, crushed rock, coarse sand, broken pots,
or whatever similar material is available. Place the bulb upright on top of this drainage material, and pack a handful of
the drainage material around the bulb as you fill in the hole with soil. The more drainage material close up around the bulb,
For most soils, the best garden soils are mixtures of
coarse sands, leaf mold, and a good loam.
In the wilds, fritillaries,
tulips and many daffodils grow in heavy clay and adobe soils in climates where they become dormant in the hot, dry summers.
We seldom want such hot dry conditions in the garden, and in the maritime Northwest such conditions are hard to achieve. We
must substitute with rocky and gravelly soils which are lighter than clays and adobes, but rich in minerals.
In good growing conditions, most fritillaries, tulips and other plants will seed
themselves around in a welcome way. Some fritillaries, and many wild tulips will increase rapidly when soil and growing conditions
are to their liking.
most commonly found in Seattle gardens is F. Meleagris. The bulbs of this European native, was used for food by the soldiers
of the Roman Army, who brought them along when they invaded England. It is still found growing “wild” in England
near old Roman Army camps. Therefore, it can’t be very hard to grow.
April, this “Checker Lily” gives us square-shouldered bells hanging from foot-tall stems, with one or more bells
per stem colored either white or maroon with white checkers.
bells are about an inch wide and almost twice as long. It grows in full sun, part shade and in light shade under thirsty shrubs.
Good companion plants are ferns, small wild flowers such as Anemone Nemerosa and bleeding heart (Dicentra).
This traffic-stopper is about three feet tall,
with clusters of scarlet, orange, or yellow flaring bells, each about two inches long, joined in a cluster with a leafy topknot.
It grows wild in northern India and the Middle East, and has been cultivated since the sixteenth century. In Seattle, it grows
best in full sun with perfect drainage.
It naturalizes in the Palouse
country of Eastern Washington, and needs regular division there. Here in Seattle the increase is less dramatic. Because of
its warm, bright colors, it should be placed carefully. It blooms at the same time as Rhododendrons and may clash with their
rosy, cool colors.
This Asian species
has long been grown in England and in some American gardens. It requires drier and sunnier conditions than the two species
mentioned above. It is about two feet tall, with twenty or more smoky-purple bells at the top of the stem. I grow it under
the eaves in full sun. Its luscious color combines with other smoky colors, soft whites and grey-leaved plants. It is stunning
among dusky pink- and plum-colored flowers and among ferns.
The squarish, creamy-white bells of this species bloom later than the species mentioned above, sometimes
not opening until mid-May. It likes more shade than the others, but not the shade of overhanging trees or shrubs. A position
to the north of such shrubs, or north of a tall rock is ideal. Thirsty ferns are good companions, and my F. Pallidifloras
grow among some native Miner’s Lettuce, which came to my garden as seeds in woodsy soils I brought from my father’s
woods many years ago. F. Pallidiflora gives me no problems.
This fairly recent introduction to cultivation has become available to gardeners through the efforts
of Dutch bulb growers. It is a nearly perfect rock garden plant, becoming popular with Northwest gardeners because it is relatively
easy to grow here. It is four to eight inches tall, with one or more mahogany bells with golden-yellow tips. Michaelovskii
welcomes a sunny, well-drained location. Its bright colors combine well with creamy and yellow flowers. I keep it away from
rosy, blue or purple flowers. If well-placed it is a show-stopper.
fall, select a few fritillaries to add variety and interest to your garden next spring!