Fritillarias number in the 100’s, all are bulbous plants, purchased in fall with the usual array of fall bulbs. Most are low growing, all are from the Northern Hemisphere, although none are indigenous to the middle and eastern part of the United States, found growing from Europe west to China, Japan and then California to Nevada. That being said, some of the best “frit” growers in the world live in the east and north east.

Gardeners that grow frits (their affectionate nick name) can be as crazy as daffodil people. I once had a customer at my nursery ask that I stop sending her a catalog, she was only interested in daffodils. The biggest difference between the 2 kind of plant crazies would be the challenge of growing the many species of fritillaria since the majority come from desert environments and need a very targeted period of moisture. This is achieved by growing them in a frame with a clear cover so the watering is completely controlled. These structures are often called alpine houses, like a greenhouse but with open ends, essentially living with the outside temperature but not the rain.

Of course frit growers aren’t interested in what you or I might buy, they need to acquire as many species as possible and grow them from seed. The choice to grow them from seed isn’t really a choice since very few species are available as bulbs, another tip to the challenge of the plant.

Fortunately there are a few that can be grown here, bought as bulbs in fall, it’s imperative that they are planted quickly, lacking the covering or tunic that other bulbs often have, like the papery shell around a clove of garlic, they dry out sooner than others. One of the most beautiful is Fritillaria imperialis or the crown imperial. One of the first to emerge in spring, very green leaves rise and produce large, hanging flowers of orange or yellow. All are members of the lily family, often eaten by deer, but in this case the bulb and foliage smell like skunk, some say fox, to protect them from herbivores. From southern Turkey to Kashmir, good drainage is a must, I suggest you surround the bulb with Permatil or chicken grit before packing in the soil. Plant them 6” deep. The floral stem rises from the center, leaving a divot in the bulb which allegedly causes them to rot and much is made of laying them on their side but the truth is they will right themselves so don’t bother, just give them good drainage.

Fritillaria persica requires the same care. Grayish foliage with gorgeous, deep purple flowers can grow to 2’. I plant them every year and at least 5. They are not persistent or reliable in flowering. Remember the grit, it’s worth the effort.

The single most popular frit is the little F. melagris. Known as the checkered lily or guinea-hen flower, the pendulous bells are checkered. The species is easy to grow, requiring summer moisture, even when it’s gone dormant (like snowdrops). Inexpensive and available in a range of purple shades to a pure white, with little green checkers. My recommendation is to drop them in with coral bells, Phlox stolonifera or woodland phlox, and primula. You won’t regret it and no one will call you crazy!

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