WHEN you think of spring, you probably think of crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips. But if you're adventurous and want something that will look different from your neighbors' yards next spring, consider planting fritillaries and alliums. Fritillaries come mainly in two varieties, the Meleagris and the Imperialis.
The Meleagris, also known as the checked lily and the guinea-hen flower, grows about six inches tall. Its flowers are all checkered, striped, or splashed with contrasting colors -- chiefly bronze, purple, and white -- hang pendantly, and are bell-shaped and crinkly.
The Imperialis, more commonly known as the Crown Imperial, grows from two to three feet tall and has gracefully drooping flowers topped with a green crown of leaves. Its stems are very strong and bear a regal cluster of large, bright blossoms of deep lemon yellow, burnt orange, or deep reddish orange.
Both varieties are real eye-catchers, very hardy, and will bloom each spring and early summer for years. The Meleagris is a natural to plant in clumps for the front of your flower borders or in a rock garden. The Crown Imperial is ideal to plant in groups at the rear of your garden or in front of shrubbery.
Both varieties thrive in well-prepared, well-drained soil in a sunny or partially shaded location. The Imperial's bulbs should be planted about six to eight inches deep and eight to 12 inches apart, while those of the Meleagris should be planted only about three or four inches deep and three to four inches apart.
Alliums, which are really flowering onions and very showy ornamentals, include the Giant Allium (A. giganteum) and several smaller varieties.
Alliums are also ideal to bridge the gap between spring and main summer blooms.
The Giant Allium will give your garden a dramatic background accent. It grows four to five feet tall and bears huge, ball-shaped purple flower heads about six inches across. Each flower is composed of thousands of tiny starlike florets. Because this species grows so tall, you may want to stake the stems to prevent storm damage.
The Star of Persia also is a beauty, and blooms in June. Plants grow about two feet tall and have lovely, star-shaped violet blossoms that cover flower heads about 10 inches across.
Some of the smaller varieties of alliums are very attractive for rock gardens or to use in the foreground of flower borders. These include the White Allium (A. neapolitanum), which has dainty white flower heads three inches across on plants eight to twelve inches tall; Yellow Allium (A. moly) with compact heads of bright-yellow flowers on plants 10 inches tall; and Red Allium (A. ostorwskianum) with large heads of purplish pink flowers that grow on six-inch plants.
Alliums are all easy to grow and will thrive in sunny areas in well-prepared, well-drained soil, to give you an increase in quantity and beauty for years to come.
Plant the bulbs of your smaller varieties about three inches deep and about three to five inches apart. Space the tall varieties about 18 inches apart and plant them six to eight inches deep.
Bulbs for growing fritillaries and alliums, as well as for many other flowers, are available from the larger seed houses. You'll usually find a gold mine of helpful information about growing them in the fall catalogs.