Snake’s head fritillaries – great for bees

These classy bulbs deserve a place in everyone’s garden, whether naturalised in grass, planted in a border or grown in a large container – and they’re great for bees too. Despite looking delicate and vulnerable snake’s head fritillaries – Fritillaria meleagris – are robust enough to thrive in all but the most exposed locations.

It’s hard to describe the colour and pattern on the petals of these beautiful flowers which grow ‘wild’ in a few meadowland locations in the UK. And the luminosity of the blooms on a sunny spring day makes them appear like mini lampshades, lit from the inside. They also appear in a creamy white form and are surprisingly easy to establish in the garden if conditions are right, where they will start to set seed and multiply. And flowering as they do in mid spring, they are a great favourite with bees and other insect life.

Where to plant snake’s head fritillaries

These bulbs look great when grown in the light dappled shade of birch trees or naturalised in longish lawn grass. They are also ideal for planting at he front of a border in combination with other spring flowers, as well as amongst late summer perennials where they can flower and grow before the later plants take over. The fritillaries will die back in midsummer to return the following spring.

I love the combination of the dusky purplish blooms with pale yellow primroses and miniature narcissi, both of which create a wonderful colour contrast. A few bulbs planted in my garden about 6 years ago has turned into a thriving little colony. They readily set seed and you’ll generally get a mix of the different coloured forms popping up, even if you only planted one colour. The white flowered form is really luminous in the spring evening light, when the dark plum form disappears into the shade. 

HEIGHT: 30cm (12in.)

SPREAD: 10cm (4in.)

SOIL: Clay, loam or chalky soils, acid, neutral or alkaline soils. Moisture-retentive, but free-drained.

ASPECT: Full sun, part or dappled shade. Any location.

HARDINESS: Hardy down to -15C

Click on Height, Spread, Soil, Aspect or Hardiness for general information about these terms

Buying snake’s head fritillaries

Both the purple and white forms of Fritillaria meleagris pop up as pot grown plants in garden centres, especially when they are in flower. Buying and planting at this time is not really a problem as the flowers will fade, quickly followed by the foliage and the bulbs will remain below ground until the following season. You will get more for your money, however, if you plant snake’s head fritillaries as bulbs in the autumn. In this form they are sometimes seen in packs in garden centres, but they are also readily available from bulbs specialists and nurseries.

The following stock the bulbs and will send out by mail order at the appropriate time of year for planting and in some cases they may also supply pot-grown plants during the growing season: Avon Bulbs, Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens, Bunkers Hill Plant Nursery, Harts Nursery, Pottertons Nursery,

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