Fritillaria – My rule – design it wild when it’s meant to be wild!

By May 25, 2013Flower Talk
Most gardeners are familiar with fritillaria. Spring catalogs have your daffodils, your crocuses, your tulips, your peonies, your lilies, your other bulbs: less familiar, a little oddball, the conversation pieces of the garden. Much can be said about the fritillaries; the genus (in the family Liliaceae) contains more than one hundred varieties.The showiest of these, Fritallaria imperialis, is popular with gardeners and florists alike. They have a commanding presence; the clusters of large, bell-shaped flowers are brightly colored in orange, yellow or red. They droop from the height of a three-foot stalk, which has an explosion of leaf bracts sprouting from its top. The effect is like that of a pineapple concocted by a mad hatter, only beautiful. Like many of the flowers in its genus, this fritillary has a distinctive odor, which some identify as foxy, skunky, fecal, or marijuana-like.

Fritillaria meleagris is another favorite. This variety is small, with a distinctive purple and white checked pattern on a flower that droops from a six to sixteen inch stem. The oddity of this bloom’s color and pattern has inspired a record number of aliases. Fritillaria meleagris’s common names include: snake’s head fritillary, guinea-hen flower, chess flower, checkered daffodil, frog-cup, guinea-hen flower, leper lily, Lazarus bell, and checkered lily. Vita Sackville-West pronounced it “a sinister little flower, in the mournful colour of decay,” but we think she was just having a bad day. Very few small flowers are as mesmerizing as this spring bulb. It’s a designer’s dream of a flower.

Laurie Needell

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