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Imperial Crown Lily

FRITALLARIA IMPERIALIS - AN IMPRESSIVE SPRING FLOWERING BULB

OK picture of an Imperial Crown Lily in BloomFall is the time to plant the spring flowering bulbs. So if you want to enjoy the beauty of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocus in your garden next spring, that's the time to select and plant the bulbs. As you are choosing the bulbs take a minute to consider one of the unusual spring bulbs, the 'Imperial Crown Lily', Fritallaria imperialis. I consider this bulb a 'real conversation piece' because of its stately, upright unusual habit of growth and lush foliage.

Here's what makes the Imperial Crown lily so unusual. The dark-green leaves that form at the base are strap-like and very attractive. Then, from the center of these leaves, comes at least one flower stem, usually 2 to 4 feet tall. At the top of the stem is another series of glossy dark green leaves, under which the flowers form. There are usually five to six flowers completely encircling the stem. The flowers are bell shaped and hang down, creating an unusual flower-and-foliage combination.

You don't need a lot of bulbs to make a big show. In fact, these flowers are so unusual that it will only takes one to three bulbs to create a nice display. We have a group of three in a bed near our entry and when they are in bloom, they create more interest and comment than all the rest of the bulbs in the garden.

The most common varieties that are available tend to be in shades of yellow or orange. However, in recent years growers have introduced new ones in shades of burnt orange and red. Although most flowers are about 1 ½ to 2 inches across, some of the new ones range in size up to 3 inches across. The larger flowering ones are often only available from specialty bulb firms.

LOCATION

Although the bulbs will grow almost anywhere in the northwest garden, they seem to do best in full sun or part sun and shade. If it is grown in warmer climates, such as east of the Cascades, it should be grown in partial shade. The one basic requirement is that it be planted in well-drained soil.

Since it is such an unusual bulb and a real conversation piece, it should have a special spot in the garden. Perhaps in a bed or container near the entry area, on the patio or where-ever foot-traffic is heavy so it can be enjoyed to its fullest. Imperial Crown lilies work well in containers or as a focal point surrounded by other spring flowering bulbs. It flowers in mid-season, making it an excellent companion for the mid-season tulips and hyacinths.

MOLE CONTROL

The bulb and plants have a rather strong odor. In fact, it is believed, the bulbs put off an odor that discourages moles and rodents. This past spring we planted a few of the bulbs, in a bed in our garden that was mole infested, and the moles left, so I am convinced they work. Incidentally, the bulbs are still in that bed and the moles have not been back. (So if you have a sensitive nose, you may not want to plant this bulb too close to the front door of your home.) And, by all means, when you buy this bulb do not take it into the house. Store it in the garage of leave it outside until you are ready to plant it. My suggestion, is to plant it immediately, so there is no chance of forgetting to plant it, which I did one year, because it was not with the rest of the bulbs.

SOIL PREPARATION

Prepare a rather large planting hole, because this bulb develops a fairly deep root system. With your existing soil, mix in some organic humus, in the form of compost, peat moss or processed manure. Then add a couple of tablespoons of a bulb fertilizer. The addition of a soil and bulb dust will also help protect the bulb from insect and disease infestations. Of course, read and follow application directions.

If your soil tends to be heavy (clay or hardpan), put 2 or 3 inches of a sandy loam or fresh water sand, below the bulbs to assure good drainage.

PLANTING

First, it's not unusual for the bulbs of the Imperial Crown lily to be up to 4 inches in diameter. Most bulbs of that size we plant quite deep, but not this one. Set it only 5 to 6 inches deep.

One other important point. You will notice either a hole or indentation in the center top part of the bulb. If the bulb is set upright in the planting hole, water will collect in that area and the bulb is apt to rot. So simple plant the bulb on its side. The new growth will still find its way to the surface, and you lessen the chance of losing the bulb.

Add an unusual spot of color to your spring garden by planting the 'Imperial Crown lily' this fall.

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