There are striped flowers and even some spotted ones, but how about a flower with a tiny checkerboard pattern on each petal? Checkered lily, a spring-blooming bulb that’s planted in the fall, has marvelously detailed reddish-purple and white checkers on its gracefully drooping 1- to 2-inch-long flowers. There’s also a white-flowered form that sparkles when combined with its checkered cousins. Checkered lily’s narrow, grasslike leaves add to this charmer’s casual air.
Common name: Checkered lily, snake’s-head fritillary, Guinea hen flower
Botanical name: Fritillaria meleagris
Plant type: Bulb
Zones: 3 to 8
Height: 8 to 12 inches
• Sun: Full sun to partial shade
• Soil: Good soil with adequate drainage
• Moisture: Average
• Mulch: Not needed
• Pruning: None
• Fertilizer: Place some balanced bulb fertilizer in the hole when planting, and scratch it into the soil each year in early spring.
• By seed or division
Pests and diseases
• No serious problems.
• Checkered lily’s casual looks and grassy foliage make it perfect for naturalizing in lawns or at wood’s edge.
• Checkered lily bulbs are quite perishable and should be planted immediately. Water newly planted bulbs in the autumn to help establish them
• Flowers that aren’t deadheaded may set seeds, which can be planted in the garden. It takes several years for seedlings to start flowering.
• Dig and divide the bulbs every three to four years.
• The naturally occurring variety alba (also listed as ‘Alba’) has pure white flowers.
All in the family
• Checkered lily is a member of the vast lily family, a group best know for its many ornamentals but also home to tasty edibles like onions and garlic.
• One of the showiest Fritillaria species is crown imperial (F. imperialis), which sports tall stalks topped by bright orange or yellow flowers and a topknot of foliage.
• There are a number of other unusual Fritillaria species that are great for rock gardens or bulb gardens. Look for F. acmopetala (olive-green flowers with reddish brown streaks), F. glauca (Siskiyou lily, yellow flowers), F. michailovskyi (purple-brown petals with bright yellow tips), and F. pudica (bright yellow flowers).
Where to buy
• Artistic Gardener Nursery & Design, Eugene, OR, 541-345-4388, http://stores.homestead.com/artisticgardenernurse
• High Country Gardens, Santa Fe, NM, 800-925-9387, www.highcountrygardens.com
• Old House Gardens, Ann Arbor, MI, 734-995-1486, www.oldhousegardens.com
(Text by Nancy Rose, photo of Fritillaria meleagris courtesy of Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden)