The other day I was checking out the incipient buds on my little clump of fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) whose exquisite flowers I have been anticipating with delight for weeks. To my dismay, they had disappeared! Had a vole decided to have them for a snack, I wondered?
I had purposely planted them inside a tough, rustproof metal screen buried into the ground to deter vegetarian voles. The other burrowing residents in my garden are moles, and the metal cage was meant to deter them as well. Though they are carnivores and aren’t likely to eat plants, they do dig tunnels and are likely to damage bulbs and roots. (The way to distinguish whether you have voles or moles is the type of exit hole. A mole leaves a surrounding mound of earth around the exit, like a volcano, whereas a vole doesn’t – its exit is a neat cavity. So where does it put all that excavated soil, I wonder? And another tip: voles are vegetarians, moles are meat eaters.)
Or could the culprit perhaps be a slug or snail? My heart had fallen at the loss, as these damp-loving lilies have the most fascinating, complex pattern ever. And they are one of the flowers that I most look forward to in spring. Straight lines and squares do not occur in nature, or so goes received wisdom. But have a closer look at these snakeshead fritillaries (another name for them) and you will see a checkerboard pattern, which is why they are also known as Schachbrettblume (chessboard flower) in German. These are not the hapless fallen ones, btw, but ones I photographed years ago in a garden in my old neighbourhood of Dottendorf.
Going closer to investigate any telltale trails left by a snail, I noticed the fallen buds lying on the ground. Dismay turned to hope. There was no snail or slug slime on them. I rushed them into the house and plunged them at once into water, hoping to revive them. One of the buds was showing a bit of pattern, the other was still pale and colourless. At least I could photograph them, I thought.
Imagine then my joy when the larger of the two opened up later that evening! And the other one – the tiny pale one – also began to look like its namesake, a mini snakehead.
So here they are, my lovelies – these fritillary lilies whose complexity and beauty never fail to arouse inspiration and awe in me. The only quality they are missing — if one could be unkind enough to say they lack anything – is scent. But that would be gilding this exquisite lily. It is absolutely perfect as it is.
I am still puzzled though as to how their heads could have been snapped off so cleanly. A bird perhaps? Or the furious gales we had a few days ago? No matter. They have survived their ordeal, and recovered sufficiently to provide me with boundless delight, and for me to be able to share their loveliness with you.