I went this afternoon on the garden club repeat visit to see the fritillaries, and for once my cold worked in my favour, because they were absolutely at their peak and there were many more than there would have been two weeks ago. There were maybe a dozen of us who didn't go last time for one reason or another, and it made me think that for garden club visits to private gardens with limited parking or seating or other reasons that made it difficult to accommodate too many visitors at once, it might make a lot of sense to split visits between two dates, if the garden owner could bear it. Apparently a great deal of weeding went on in today's garden once the owner told his wife that thirty people from the local garden club were coming for a tour,
The fritillaries looked quite beautiful. There were primroses too, and a patch of spotted orchids, each clump of leaves carefully marked with a bamboo cane, and cowslips, and some wild daffodils, but the really striking feature was the fritillaries. Purple chequerboard, pure white, white with brown stripes down the back of each petal, brown chequerboard, nodding gracefully above the fresh green spring grass.
I like the way that bulbs form natural clusters where the conditions are most to their liking. You can see it in bluebell woods, where the bluebells grow thick in some places and are absent elsewhere. It's something to try and copy if planting bulbs for a naturalised effect, and more to the point something to observe when you are planting. It's a waste to put new bulbs where they are not going to thrive, and when I top up the snowdrops in the wood I have to try and remember where I've tried them before, since there's no point in replanting them in patches where they failed last time. Fritillaria meleagris is a great self seeder if conditions are right, so today's display will in part have found their own chosen spots.
I learnt some more about the raising in a box technique our host described in his lecture. He sowed the seed initially in a normal seed tray, and then moved the small bulbs into the boxes to grow on. His growing medium was just potting compost with some topsoil, no grit. He said that after all fritillaries liked moisture. That's true, but so does Primula florindae when it's a grown plant, and that didn't stop me killing my entire crop of seedlings last year through over watering the pot.
Our host used yellow rattle in places to control the vigour of his grass, but didn't have any tips on how to get it to establish. My sowing of fresh seed begged from the plant centre failed, and so did a relative's attempt with (very expensive) bought seed. On the other hand we could copy his technique of mowing his long grass a couple of times during the winter after the initial scything, so that come spring it starts growing from a lower base. Today's garden didn't include crocus in the mix, and we'd have to be careful about the crocus leaves which come up pretty early, but there should be scope for a winter cut.
Wild flower gardening and gardening for nature do not necessarily mean the garden has to be run on organic principles. Our host today uses weedkillers, to clear small areas of grass so that planted out perennials have more of a chance to establish, and to help deal with weeds like dock and creeping thistle. A graceful flowering fritillary meadow may look natural, apart from knowing that somebody planted the fritillaries and mows it a few times in the year, but in reality it is a heavily edited version of nature. The top part of today's garden was the domain of our host's wife, and as estate agents' parlance would put it is laid to grass with borders. The lower part with the long grass and wild flowers was our host's special project. A couple of today's visitors, after exclaiming at the amount of work needed to look after the top part of the garden, said hopefully that there could not be so much to do in the bottom half. I suspect there might be a lot of work involved in looking that natural.