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Snakeshead fritillaries - my favourite spring meadow plant

snakeshead fritillaries

This month our limited edition collection is based on the Snakeshead Fritillary - you can see the full range here.

The first time I saw a snakehead fritillary was in a watercolour drawing by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

I was 24 and had been appointed as an assistant curator at the Hunterian Art Gallery part of the University of Glasgow, home to an amazing collection of Mackintosh furniture, drawings and ephemera.

Amongst them are many of his flower drawings - snakehead fritillary amongst them.

Fritillaria Meleagris is probably the best known of Mackintosh's flower watercolours - painted in Walberswick in 1915 - he emphasised the angularity of the checkered petals.

To me it seemed like a fantasy flower, created to fit inside one of his checkered interiors.

When I discovered that I could actually grow such exotic plants in Scotland - that indeed they love the damp climate and will happily self seed - I began creating mini meadows of them.

I planted them in grass so that I could lie down in the midst of their flowers and see the sun shining through the patterned petals.

It is still one of my favourite things to do in the garden.

To create your own mini fritillary meadow

  • Chose a damp spot that will not completely dry out in summer. They are originally a water meadow plant. They don't mind summer shade.
  • The bulbs should be planted in autumn - as early as you can get them - they should be plump, not shrivelled.
  • Look at the bulb carefully, it is shaped like a tiny donut, and work out which is the top (tiny point) and which the bottom (should be remnants of tiny roots)
  • Put a tiny pinch of grit under the bulb when planting so it doesn't actually sit in water.
  • Leave the bulbs as long as possible after flowering to let the seeds form and scatter and the leaves completely die down. This may mean leaving your grass for a while before cutting it. Bear this in mind if you like a tidy lawn and create your mini fritillary meadow out of sight.
  • Snakeshead fritillaries also thrive in pots - I have some planted alongside wood anemones in a big pot by my front door and they are in their 4th year of flowering.

charles rennie mackintosh fritillarycopyright University of Glasgow.

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