If bluebells are synonymous with Britain, crown imperials must surely be synonymous with Iran – they grow everywhere. In sun or shade, on open hillsides or rocky crevices, their orange flowers are abundant in early spring.
Orange flowers are dominant in the wild. Even in the Dasht-e Laleh valley, where thousands of them grow, there are no more than half a dozen with yellow blooms. Yet in gardens, it is the yellow form that is more usually seen.
The large bulbs have a hole in their centre, marking the position of the previous year’s stem. They should be planted at least six inches deep in a well-drained soil in a sunny position (although light shade is tolerated). On heavier soils, it may be advisable to put a layer of grit under the bulb to protect against rotting; planting the bulbs on their side will also prevent excess moisture sitting in the central hole. The roots delve deeply, so break up the soil under the planting area to allow them easy passage through the growing medium. You will also notice a distinct foxy smell from the bulbs, but this is not usually noticeable when the plants are in flower. However, there is an upside to even this – some people swear that the smell discourages moles, deer, squirrels, rabbits and rodents. The flowers are carried on three feet high stems, although there are taller and shorter forms available. There are also forms with variegated foliage, although these are more prone to frost damage in colder areas. Crown imperials are heavy feeders, so apply a high potash granular feed when the foliage emerges, and mulch around the stems with more organic matter. Although fairly pest and disease-free, you’ll need to watch out for bright red lily beetles, which attack fritillaries as well, and snails have a habit of munching the stems just as they are coming into flower.