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Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006 04:10 pm

Beyond tulips and daffodils

Time to plan something different in your spring garden

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Fritillaria imperialis, better known as crown imperial, is a robust perennial bulb with magnificent foliage and flowers.

Looking for something different to add to your spring garden? Try fritillaria.

Varieties of this old-fashioned spring-flowering bulb, which puts forth interesting bell-shaped hanging blooms in middle to late spring, range in height from 1 to 4 feet. Most fritillaria prefer a sheltered garden location in a partially shaded area. The unusual flowers will draw attention and should be planted in groups for the best showing. A bonus: The plant’s odd odor tends to repel deer and rodents.

Although the Fritillaria genus comprises more than 80 species, only a few are cultivated and available for purchase. Crown imperial, Fritillaria imperialis, is the most popular of the fritillarias. Clusters of orange, red, or yellow flowers nod atop 3- to 4-foot stems. The flowers are held below a crown of leaves (hence the plant’s name) that shelters the flowers from the elements. This bulb performs best in a partially shaded area and should be planted at a far corner of your property because of the slight musky, skunky odor. Don’t worry, though — the flowers’ beauty more than makes up for the smell.

Another unusual spring bloomer is Persian bells (Fritillaria persica). This statuesque 2- to 3-foot-tall plant with wavy blue-green foliage can serve as a focal point in the late-spring garden, producing strong stalks that explode with 20 to 30 dark-plum-colored blossoms apiece. White daffodils are a nice complement for this fritillaria. Ivory bells is a greenish-white form of Persian bells.

Checkered lily, also known as guinea-hen flowers or snake’s-head fritillary, is a prized naturalizer in moist meadows or bright woodland gardens. Before it opens, the flower bud resembles the head of a snake, giving rise to the nickname. The small bell-shaped flowers, checkered and strongly veined, should last two to three weeks. The most common coloration is purple with white checkering. White, wine, rose, and deep brown are also available. Alba is a creamy-white cultivar that is more visible than the darker colors of the species. This petite (foot-tall) plant performs best in moist soil with full sun.

One word of caution: Handle the fleshy bulbs of your fritillaria with care and don’t allow them to dry out. Plant bulbs immediately in well-drained, rich, moist soil.

TO LEARN MORE

Add color and variety to your spring landscape by participating in a class on specialty bulbs led by Susan Grupp, a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois.

“Minor Spring Blooming Bulbs” will be offered at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12, and repeated at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, in the extension’s building, on the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

To register, call 217-782-4617 or e-mail sangamon_co@extension.uiuc.edu.

The cost is $2.

Jennifer Fishburn is a unit educator with the University of Illinois Extension, Sangamon-Menard Unit. For more information, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/sangamon.

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