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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 01 April 2015 by Tim Ingram

Fritillaria Group meeting

I am not a member of the Fritillaria Group but for the past couple of years I have attended the meetings held on the Sunday following the Kent AGS Show. Fritillaria is a wonderfully diverse genus, always such a feature of the early alpine shows, and a group of plants that is fascinating to learn more about - especially from my point of view those species that are successful in the garden. At a quick tally we grow 10 species with greater or lesser success outside but in 'Fritillaria', Spring 2007: No. 20 (which I picked up at the last meeting), articles by Paul Furse and Laurence Hill describe many more that can be grown in the garden given care. In the only recent book on the genus, 'The Gardener's Guide to Growing Fritillarias', Kevin Pratt and Michael Jefferson-Brown also describe growing a good variety of species in the garden, perhaps not surprising given the close relationship to the varied and popular genus Lilium. Garden fritillaries in general are more demure and modest than lilies - with some noted exceptions! - but are certainly of no less interest to the plantsman and botanist, and there will be few gardeners not enchanted by the native Snakeshead Fritillary either when it begins to naturalise in the garden or in wild meadows.

This year's meeting, held in the excellent village hall at Theydon Bois (which the Essex Group of the AGS also use for their meetings) was noted for a talk from the remarkable plantsman and botanist Martyn Rix (present editor of Curtis' Botanical Magazine at Kew and probably best known to many gardeners for his wonderfully informative and comprehensive series of Pan Guides to plants, written with Roger Phillips). His talk, 'Fritillarias for the Open Garden', which looked at the Asian and European species from east to west, may have been optimistic for some in the garden but its strength was the description and understanding of plants in their natural environments which give great clues as to which may suit gardens in different places, and how conditions might be modified to suit them best.

His talk was followed by a good discussion between the audience and a panel of Brian Mathew, Laurence Hill and Martyn, all of whom have such great expereince of growing and studying the genus. Even if many fritillaries are much more successfully grown in pots or bulb frames with protection (the pictures below show some examples from Bob and Rannveig Wallis, and Peter Taggart also brought along plants and demonstrated his ways of growing them) it is valuable to also consider the wider context of their garden worth and adaptability.

Underlying this meeting was/is the prospect of a detailed monograph on the Genus Fritillaria which growers have been hoping for for many years and would bring together the knowledge and skills of many of those at the meeting and excite gardeners like myself with much less experience of growing them.

Of course seeing these plants is one thing - growing and obtaining them another. At the previous meeting in 2014 Rannveig stressed the importance of collecting and distributing seed. Specialist growers and nursery-people such as John Amand and Jillian Agg, who were both at the meeting, also supply fine plants at very reasonable cost given the time it can take to raise plants from sowing seed to first flowering. These plants of Fritillaria stenanthera are pretty difficult to resist: kept dry in a bulb frame in summer this would be a thoroughly exciting plant to have in the garden!

Fritillaria imperialis is widely grown in gardens of course, though not always easy to keep as Brian Mathew pointed out when gardening on clay soil, even in the low rainfall of the south-east. Its close relatives, F. eduardii, F. chitralensis and F. raddeana are much less grown but have been used with imperialis in breeding programmes by Doede de Jong and Willem Wietsma (www.keizerskroon.net) to develop some fascinating and potentially highly garden worthy hybrids (see also 'Cultivating Fritillaria eduardii', The Plantsman Vol. 11, p.222, 2012). Seeing these grown as field crops in the Netherlands is eye-opening and remarkable, even if a gardener's experience of the genus may be very different! (My thanks to David and Anke Way for the introduction).

The meeting was stimulating and informative as well as being an informal and friendly get together of  keen plants-people sharing their knowledge and interest in fritillarias. My thanks to the organisers and we are now likely to grow more species in the garden! (The pictures below show a few more plants brought along by Bob and Rannveig, which made their way from the Kent AGS Show on the previous day!).

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