Fritillaria are a genus of about 100 species of bulbs of which the most commonly grown are Fritillaria michailovskyi illustrated left, F. melegaris known as Snake's Head fritillary, illustrated centre, and F. imperialis, illustrated right. Whilst the same group, they have different growing requirements. Fritillaria look exotic but are relatively easy to grow and fully hardy.
Fritillaria michailovskyi is the less commonly grown of the three, and is an early summer flowering bulb growing to around 20cms with nodding flowers. Like all bulbs it needs to be planted 3-4 times its own depth, and it is particular about growing conditions. This type of Fritillary likes fertile, well drained soil and will not tolerate wet, particularly winter wet. It will tolerate partial shade and relatively dry soil. It has nodding flowers which are brown/amber edged with green.
The Snake's head fritillary has a delicate chequered flower in purple or white. It is an unusual because it will grow in diverse conditions. Snake's head fritillaries will grow both in full sun on well drained soil, and also in damp areas in full sun or light shade. Snake's head Fritillaria will grow in both exposed and sheltered areas it is very tolerant of conditions. It is spring flowering and the bulbs will naturalise and multiply over time. Snake's head Fritillary is a delicate plant and can be easily swamped by planting companions. It looks good growing in grassy semi wild areas. Although it will grow in drier areas, and is sometimes seen planted in wild meadow areas, it is happiest in cooler areas with some shade. Plant bulbs about 3/4 times their own depth and they are best planted in the Autumn.
The Fritillaria Imperialis, known as Crown Imperial is different. Whereas F. melegaris grows to around 30cms (12") the Imperialis grows much taller, up to 1.5m (5') F. Imperialis will not tolerate damp conditions, it likes drier growing conditions with well-drained soil. If planted on poorly drained soils Fritillaria Imperialis is prone to the bulbs rotting which makes dry, well-drained soil essential. It is a robust plant with large showy flowers; a statuesque plant which makes a bold statement. It is often planted with other spring flowering bulbs and plants.
Also best planted in September/October, the Crown Imperial will flower in spring and its flowering colours are yellow red and orange. It is easy to grow and requires no real maintenance. Both are attractive plants and often overlooked.
Fritillaries are members of the Lily family and so they can be prone to Lily beetle attack.