Crown Jewel of the Garden

by Holly Boettcher

I must admit, the first time I saw one, I didn’t know what it was. I had been touring gardens on a garden walk fundraiser and stumbled upon a stunning plant with blooms so brilliant orange that I was mesmerized. They looked like a crown of jewels on three-foot stalks, with long scapes and drooping bells topped with a whorl of leaves, and immediately I wondered just what this flower was. I quickly learned it was the crown imperial. And like any avid gardener, I knew that I must grow one in my own garden.

With some research, I was able to locate some bulbs and ordered several. I followed the instructions on the package, which were vague. I planted them in the fall in poorly drained soil, and did not plant them deep, and I watered them generously. After a long winter, I anxiously anticipated their emergence from their winter sleep. But my new plant did not spring forth, rather the bulbs rotted in the ground over the winter.  

Many years have passed since my first attempt, but I am not going to give up. This year I ordered some bulbs, and I am getting ready to plant once again. BUT, this time I did my homework, and I’m going to share what I learned so you can try growing this beauty and perhaps we can share notes next spring. 

About the Crowns

Crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis) is a member of the lily (Lillaceae) family and is native to the Middle East and West Asia and comes in shades of red, orange, or yellow. They have a potent and musky scent, which makes them deer resistant.  

General Care

The Crown Imperial is hardy to zones 5 through 9 and prefers full sun, although it will tolerate part shade. They make a stunning border or a showstopper specimen plant, so be sure to plant them where they can be admired. They will do best in well-drained soil.  

How to Plant

Plant them in the fall 5 inches deep (on their side to discourage rotting) and between 9 and 12 inches apart. Water sparingly and cover with a good amount of mulch to protect them over winter.

They will go dormant in the summer, and at that time they should be cut back to the ground and the leaves can be composted. Discontinue watering at that time.  It is also important to dig them up and divide or separate the bulbs, then replant them every few years. Giving them extra room to breathe will help prevent fungus and rust.

Lessons Learned

I have learned to be more patient and forgiving of my garden experiences, and as the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try again! I am hopeful that after planting in well-drained soil at the proper depth and making sure I protect my bulbs this time with plenty of mulch over the winter, I will be overjoyed next spring when my crown imperial springs forth.