For the purpose of this section we will deal with the two most common - and easiest - of the Fritillaria group, being Fritillaria imperialis and Fritillaria meleagris. They are commonly known as Crown Imperial and Snakeshead Fritillary.
Other than the fact they are both Fritillarias, there are not many similarities in their appearance - or growing habits!
Both Fritillaria imperialis and Fritillaria meleagris flower in mid spring. There the resemblance stops.
As you would expect of a flowering bulb with this name, the Fritillaria imperialis or Crown Imperial, is a grand - if not stately - member of the bulb group and belongs to the wider family of the Lilies - Liliacea. The Snakeshead fritillary bulbs produce a pendant snakes head lookalike flower - much daintier than the grand F. imperialis.
The bulbs start into growth in mid spring, sending up long stems which are topped with spectacular groups of flowers on which is a crown of bracts (leaf-like).The flowers are grouped in 6 to 8 individual pendulous bell shaped blooms from which droops the stamens and anthers. They are either yellow, orange or red, and can stand to 1 metre above ground level, though 60cm is more the norm.
They do not have a particularly nice scent, and the bulbs are quite obnoxious in odour - especially before planting. No matter, they are still worth planting and will grow into colourful clumps over a few years.
They insist on having well drained soil, for the bulbs have a hollow cup before planting, collecting any surplus moisture and being liable to rot. Nevertheless, they should be left in the ground after planting and blooming, and if in the right conditions - sun or light shade - will give years of good service.
Crown Imperials are superb in a herbaceous border or beneath taller growing shrubs with not too much overhanging growth.
Varieties of Fritillaria imperialis.
Pest Problems - The two main problems of this group are slug attack at ground level and also on the stems. deter with slug pellets or other means, and the invidious Lily Beetle. A red blighter that will soon strip foliage and flowers of any useful meaning. Fortunately, they are bright red and easily seen - especially in the early evening when they are out for an early supper.
Propagation of Fritillaria imperialis is best done be dividing the mature clumps of bulbs after a few years and re-planting where desired. This is best done in late Summer or early Autumn.
These large bulbs should be planted around 6in deep - adding plenty of coarse grit to the planting hole.
The snakeshead fritillary bulbs are much smaller than its grand cousin (above) and prefers a different part of the garden. The rock garden, a raised bed, or even naturalised in a lawn or semi woodland setting are all suitable homes for this dainty bulbous flower.
It is naturally found in damp meadows, and will happily naturalise in such conditions. It grows to around 6in tall with narrow foliage and nodding flowers. They are very attractive if planted in a raised - but moist - bed.
The nodding bell flowers often have a chequered pattern on the petals, and come in a range of colours from white through to deep maroon. The flowers appear in mid spring, and the bulbs are best planted in groups or drifts for the best effect, though a single specimen or two will look rather nice in the rock garden.
Bulbs are obtainable in the autumn, and best planted right away. Plant to around 4in deep. Can be planted in situ in the lawn or other area suitable for naturalising.
As with Crown Imperials, slugs can be a problem, though not to the same extent. We have no knowledge of the Lily Beetle being a problem with this group of Fritillaries.