How to grow fritillaries

Botanical artist and Fritillaria specialist Laurence Hill reveals his top tips.

There is something about the genus Fritillaria that faintly alarms many gardeners. The fact that there are so many garden-worthy species should be an attraction, but merely seems to spread doubt and confusion. Then, there is the suggestion that they’re difficult to grow and therefore best left to the specialist.

Let me, then, be clear. There is nothing to worry about. Specialist Laurence Hill advises:

  • The single most important aspect of growing fritillaries is the growing medium, which should be both free draining and moisture retentive. I use a mixture of loam-based compost, grit, humus (leaf mould or bark) and Perlite.
  • Fritillaria meleagris the snake’s head fritillary that occurs in some water meadows of the Thames valley, is best sown or planted into moist wildflower meadows and mown in late summer (when grown from seed, it takes four years to flower). It will grow equally well in a damp border, given some shade. Fritillaria montana and F. pyrenaica can be planted in similar locations.
  • Fritillaria persica and the statuesque F. imperialis, with its exotic pineapple-like plumage, are good for spring borders, although Beth Chatto grows crown imperials successfully under the eaves of a mature oak tree.
  • For the border, try F. elwesii, F. pontica and F. uva-vulpis, which are easy to find from online nurseries and tolerate our variable summer weather. Those suited to both the border and the rock garden include F. acmopetala, F. bithynica and F. thunbergii. F. orientalis should be sited in a raised bed as the stems have a habit of leaning.
  • If attempting trickier species from the Mediterranean, F. forbesii from Turkey for example, or F. biflora, from southern coastal California, you may need a glasshouse to shelter them from the winter frost and summer rain; similarly, F. aurea and F. gibbosa require very careful watering during the cold months although they’re fully hardly.

Where to buy bulbs
Pitcairn Alpines: 01738 583 213;
Janis Ruksans:
acques Amand: 020 8420 7110;

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Where to get seeds
Fritillaria Group of the Alpine Garden Society ( members only, but wide variety of inexpensive and often rare species . Allow five years to flower from seed.

To view Mr Hill’s unique plant database for botanists and enthusiasts around the world visit: