Fritillaria – a charming spring bulb

3rd October 2016

There is still time to buy some spring bulbs although many are beginning to sell out. I’ve just bought one hundred Fritillaria meleagris (seen below) from Van Meuwen for £14.99. These hardy spring bulbs flower in April/May – reaching a height of around 30cm/12inches, sometimes higher – and will form a lovely drift under the trees in my garden.

frix-1These bulbs grow well in deciduous woodland, grassy areas or can look good in a rockery. They prefer moist soil and do not like to dry out completely in the summer.

At one time they were common in grassland near rivers prone to flooding. However, as more land has given over to agriculture the fritillaria has declined.

It was first recorded as growing in the wild in Britain in 1736 although records show it was being cultivated during the Tudor period. It seems this is one of those species of plants that became naturalised in the wild from the cultivated varieties as there is little evidence of it being around prior to 1736.

Fritllaria can be found growing in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and even into Russia. However, almost everywhere it is in decline in the wild as more grassland is cultivated.

According to Kew Gardens, Fritillaria is of scientific interest due to its large genome (an organism’s complete set of DNA). A human’s DNA would unravel to about 2m or so. However, the genome of Fritillaria by comparison is enormous as it contains about 15 times more DNA and can be unravelled to about 30m. It is puzzling why it should be so obese and scientists at Kew are investigating in the hope that it might give some insight into the evolution of DNA.

frix-2The Fritillaria’s bulb size is around 5-6cm/2 inches. The general rule of thumb for planting bulbs is to plant them to a depth equal to approximately 2 to 3 times the height of the bulb therefore, in this case, making a planting depth of 15cm/6 inches. I prefer to space them just over the width of a bulb apart.

When planting in a lawn I find it is easier to lift an area of turf and dig a hole so to accommodate a number of bulbs at once. Before the soil and turf are replaced it would be beneficial to mix in some rotted organic matter into the soil to help it retain moisture.

There is no doubt Fritillaria can provide a lovely display in spring which works especially well if planted in large drifts. A good example of this is the Princess Walk at Kew where over 30,000 bulbs were planted – seen below.



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