Planting snake's head fritillaries

Posted: Friday 12 October 2012
by Kate Bradbury

My favourite spring bulb is the beautiful snake’s head fritillary, with its exquisite chequered flowers, and I’ve just planted 20 bulbs in the green roof on my shed.

The purple chequered flower of a snake's head fritillary

When I plant bulbs, I feel like I’m putting them to bed: I prepare the soil, gently push the bulbs in and then cover them with a thick duvet of earth or compost. A little water and that’s it. Then I don’t see them until spring. But what an awakening - if only I could dazzle as brightly in the morning.

My favourite spring bulb is the beautiful snake’s head fritillary, with its exquisite chequered purple flowers. There are already several colonies bulking up in my garden, but I’ve just planted another 20 bulbs in my green roof, to complement the primroses, oxlips and bluebells planted last year. The roof sits on a small, low shed and brings the flowers to head height, so I don’t have to stoop down to appreciate their beauty. It’s the perfect platform to show them off. 

The snake’s head fritillary is traditionally found in ancient flower-rich flood-plain meadows, so does well in my soggy garden. It grows best in a sunny spot, but tolerates a bit of shade. Most flowers are lilac-purple, but some are white with faint chequered markings on the petals that resemble a watermark.

This native flower is rarely seen in the wild these days, as so many flood plains have been drained for agriculture. Gravel extraction and urban expansion have also played a part in its demise. But, unlike much of our flora and fauna that has been pushed out of its natural habitat, the snake’s head fritillary can thrive in our gardens. Grown in the right spot and left to self-seed, it should spread slowly. You could even plant it into your lawn or mini-meadow – or on a tiny green roof on a shed at head height. 

Growing the snake’s head fritillary is more than just adding spring cheer to your garden, it’s a little act of conservation.

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donutsmrs 12/10/2012 at 18:54

After seeing these on Gardeners World last week, I would really love to have a go at growing these. They look so pretty and delicate dancing about in the breeze. I will be honest, I haven't really given them a lot of thought before, but after seeing them on GW I would love them in my garden.

oldchippy 12/10/2012 at 20:17

Hi Kate the first time I saw Snakes head fritillaries they were growing in a clay pan under cover in a Alpine house in some ones garden in Crawley,I had no Idear how small they are.I have seen today my second Painted Lady feeding on Ivy growing on the garden wall in the park.


Berghill 12/10/2012 at 22:51

Sadly the bulbs you see on sale in packets in G/C's are virtually dead. If you want them, either buy them when they are first dug up (Bridgemere often have them and if you go early they are still alive) or buy them already growing and plant out from pots.

Obelixx 13/10/2012 at 12:21

It helps to soak bulbs bought now overnight in cold water to rehydrate them but even then success is patchy.  Better, if you can, to buy them in pots next spring and plant them out where you have suitable gaps.

Matty2 13/10/2012 at 15:08

Now I read all this. Yesterday clutching this months GW went into garden and planted some. Wish I'd known about soaking, Makes sense.

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