Checkered Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris)

It was an overcast and cool day at the gardens but we had a nice turnout of both staff and volunteers.  Larry H. continued taking down the Holiday Light Show (HLS) and we are on track to have that event packed away by the end of the month.  The grounds staff and select volunteers have done a great job with this process which started over six months ago when the first lights were put up by Larry H. in August in the Japanese garden!  I hope our HLS this year beats the previous attendance record of 47,000!  We’ll see.  A warmer than average December certainly helped in 2017.  Cindy worked on tasks associated with our looming Spring Symposium this Saturday (St. Patrick’s Day!) and Bobby K. worked on some carpentry projects and garden project planning for electrical upgrades.  Dr. Gredler and Alan were both in for painting and Kathy P. was out in the gardens tidying up the sunken garden.  Urban did quite a bit of pruning out in the gardens as well. Art stopped by to chat about our August 8th Horticultural Therapy Symposium (more details soon!).  Peg was in to print labels and Kay worked on processing the thousands of plant labels we’ll be using for the Spring Plant Sale.  Steve was also in for some carpentry work.  We also saw Becky, Maury, Gary, Big John and Cullen (along with Larry H., Cindy and Bobby K.) for our Garden Development & Maintenance Committee Meeting.

I’m not sure that I’ve blogged about checkered fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) in the past but certainly should have regardless!  We are still about seven weeks away from seeing these bloom out in the gardens but I always find them striking in bloom!  Also called guinea hen flower (similar checkered pattern!), snake’s head fritillary, chess flower and many other common names, this European native is hardy to zone 3 and thrives in both sun and part shade.  Featured throughout this blog are the two selections available to home gardeners.  The white form is beautiful and while the “checkering” is still there, it’s certainly harder to notice it from a distance.  The white form is frequently listed as Fritillaria meleagris var. unicolor subvar. alba or simply ‘Alba’.  Checkered fritillary (Liliaceae family) is planted as a bulb in fall (3″ deep and 3″ apart) and typically emerges in mid April and blooms in early May.  Plant these in areas that don’t receive a lot of summer moisture during the dormancy period for this bulb.  They tend to thrive for many years in areas that experience drier summer soils (not unlike tulips!).  The flowers are beautiful to observe and the bulbs are quite affordable if you can locate them in fall for installation throughout the landscape.  Note the use of this bulb in meadow gardens (Olbrich Botanical Garden, Madison, WI) where it blooms early and goes dormant as the warm season grasses are filling in as the soil warms (photo directly above and three below).