After a winter that we will be talking about for winters to come along the East Coast, everyone is delighted more than ever to see spring arrive. One of the ways that we have come to welcome spring is with the arrival of flowering bulbs. Daffodils are of course the easiest, tulips are indeed the divas of the bulb world, and then there is a plethora of other bulbs to catch people’s attention.
One of my favorite spring flowering bulbs is the yellow crown imperial or Fritillaria imperials ‘Maxima Lutea.’
This bulb rises up in the spring beginning with an eye-catching rosette of light green foliage. As the foliage continues to grow and expand, the flowering stalk begins to emerge. Most garden visitors have never seen such a plant so their curiosity is piqued. At the top of each flowering stalk is a tuft of green leaves that act as a shield over the flower buds. Once the flowering begins, a yellow ring of flowers resembling a circle of crowns hangs down from the top of the plant. Every rose has its thorn or in this case, every crown has its thorn. The thorn for the crown imperial would be the smell. Even when the foliage is emerging, you can begin to get a whiff of something that is a bit off. As the stalk elongates and begins to flower, then you can really notice that something is not right. A fully developed crown imperial smells like a skunk. An entire mass planting of crown imperials smells like Pepe Le Pew is having a family reunion. Ok, maybe it is not really that bad. The smell is tolerable whereas a skunk will make your eyes water. And unlike seeing a skunk, crown imperials are so beautiful that you will not want to turn the other way when you see them.
As for culture, plant the bulbs 6″ below the soil line in early fall. They grow in USDA hardiness zones 5-8 so be sure to add an extra layer of mulch in the colder parts of zone 5. In areas with wet winters, you may want to plant the bulbs sideways to avoid crown rot. Crown rot occurs when water gets trapped into the top of the bulb. After flowering, the bulbs will go dormant by late summer. Once established, take care not to move the bulbs as they prefer not to be disturbed.
If you are looking to add some dramatic spring bulbs to your landscape, be sure to check out the yellow crown imperials. They can grow 2 to 3 feet in height so they will make a real welcome statement in your garden after a long winter.