Thursday, April 05, 2007

Snakehead fritillaries

I have a particular soft spot for snakeshead fritillaries.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh's iconic watercolour of fritillaries was the best selling postcard at the Hunterian Art Gallery where I was a curator pre-flower growing. The watercolour is a fine, accurate botanical drawing with a tension between pure representation and the checkerboarding pattern which fits so well into Mackintosh's textile and furniture designs.

Inspired by the glamour of the flower it was the first bulb that I had the courage to plant in drifts - I bought 200 bulbs and put them into the small lawn in our first garden. Every single one bloomed, and if you lay down in the grass and blinkered out the flower and vegetable beds you could believe that you were in a meadow.

They were also the first flower that I sold - to a flower shop in Glasgow.

Snakehead fritillaries get their name, I suspect, from the way that the growing stem writhes around on the ground. Like the snowflakes I mentioned a couple of posts ago, they like damp conditions - ideally a spot which doesn't dry out too much in the summer. They colonise water meadows and are ideally suited to a patch of damp grass. I grow them in patches in the cutting borders and they are now self sowing with thin blades of new bulbs clustering round the parents. The only pest is pheasants - which love to eat the bulbs - but they will only do this before they start into growth so fine netting over the clump during the winter deters them.

Fritillaries make very good cut flowers - as long as you remember to dip the cut ends into boiling water for a couple of seconds and as long as you top up their vase regularly. They are the thirstiest flower I know.

I prefer then, one or two stems to a vase, on their own against the light. They are one of those flowers that repays careful study. I keep meaning to have a go at drawing them.


Heather said...

I like aquilegia's similarly - they can be easily overlooked by showier pieces - but under a careful eye - their real beauty can shine through.

On saying all that - I love Crown Imperials which have no subtlty!


BeachysCapeCodCupboard said...

Such gorgeous flowers! I had never heard of them. They do have a checkerboard feel to them, and I love their coloring! I love tiny flowers that can hold their own! These are definitely not an accessory posy to spruce up a bouquet. My soil here is very sandy and particularly dry in summer (we have water bans all summer), so my choices, sadly, are very limited. Right now our squirrels and chipmunks are munching on my bulbs.

Alice said...

So there I was - feeling very pleased with my little pot of fritillaries by the back door. I thought the fact that I had nurtured it for two years showed that I had potential as a gardener. Then I read that you have naturalised drifts of them in grass....Respect to you Jane!
I must admit that I have never thought of cutting them but then I rarely cut flowers from my garden - it gives me an excuse to visit our excellent local florists.

weirdbunny said...

I didn't plant any this year, as I couldn't frind where the packet was that the woodcutters sister gave me. I just adore them. Every year their pattern still makes me stare at them in amazement.