LILY OF THE VALLEY
Lily of the valley is surprisingly adaptable and easy to grow. Indeed, it spreads aggressively farther north. Here, its vigor is checked somewhat by the hot climate.
For the foliage to look good long into the season, you will need to place it where there is some shade for at least half of the day, and the soil stays moist.
Spring is lily of the valley’s best season. The lovely spring-green leaves clasp a soft and exquisitely scented spike of bell-shaped flowers. If you have a bed of them, pick some to perfume a room in your home. The leaves develop a dark, forest green color as spring progresses and the flowers fade.
Sometimes a few of the flowers get pollinated; these will be replaced by tiny green fruits that turn red in fall. The fruits and all parts of the plant are poisonous.
During the summer, you might have to supply water if the weather is parched. Slugs can be a problem, and you might have to use an iron phosphate slug bait to keep the foliage looking good. Inevitably, a drift of lily of the valley looks a bit tatty by the end of the summer. What remains turns yellow as it goes dormant in the fall.
You can get a bed of lily of the valley to fill in a bit faster by keeping it well watered and providing an organic mulch such as chopped leaves to keep the soil cool and release a steady stream of nutrients as it decays.
Lily of the valley Planting Tips
Lily-of-the-valley is valuable as a low-maintenance ground cover in a shaded area. But the slender roots do creep far abroad in the ground. These plants naturalize so quickly in fact that they can become invasive.
I have one rhododendron caught fast right now in a sweet-scented convallaria hug.
- To keep a lily-of-the-valley planting within reasonable bounds, sink barriers around it or keep straying rootstocks dug yearly. When the planting becomes crowded and stops flowering well, lift the plants, replenish the ground and replant the individual pieces (pips) 10 centimeters (four inches) apart and 2.5 centimeters (one inch) deep.
2. An appealing project with lily-of-the-valley is to grow the plants in pots from pips either purchased or dug from the garden after a few touches of frost. Use only the fattest pips you can find, as only the big ones will bloom well in containers.
3. Knock some of the soil away from around them, trim the roots, and fit as many as possible into a shallow pot over a layer of peaty soil mix.
4. The tops of the pips should end up at the soil level. Firm the soil, mix down lightly, water thoroughly, and allow the pot to drain. Then slide the pot into a plastic bag and set it in an excellent, bright spot.
5. Leave the bag partly open to allow for some ventilation while still maintaining high humidity levels around the pips. The plants should bloom in three to four weeks.
6. As a cut flower for small bouquets, lily-of-the-valley is superb. In the language of flowers, lily-of-the-valley signifies the return of happiness.
Pretty names that have been given to this flower in the past are Lily Constancy and Our Lady’s Tear. An old country name is Mugget, from the French word for the plant – Muguet.
Lily of the valley Information
Botanical Names: Convallaria Majalis
Description: Growing to eight inches tall, this highly perfumed member of the lily family forms a dense carpet in shady spots (such as on the north side of homes) where few other things proliferate. Each curving stalk holds 10 to 15 perfectly shaped bell-shaped blossoms. Pink lilies of the valley are sometimes found in specialty catalogs today.
Challenges: For indoor bloom, put three or four lilies of the valley pips (upright buds of rhizomes) in a six-inch pot before frost destroys the foliage. If you forgot, they’re available from mail-order houses. You can enjoy the wonderful perfume inside this winter and then plant the pips outside in spring. In a shady spot, they’ll continue to multiply and bloom for many years.
Did you know: A European native, lilies of the valley are grown for perfume there, and in many European countries, folklore and symbolism are attached to the flower. The plant also was used for medicinal purposes.
One example from a 16th-century English botanist says to put the blossoms in a glass; set it in an anthill, covered for one month, and the liquid remaining will treat the “Paine and grief of gout.” Rather than a medicinal cure-all, today, we know that all parts of the plant are somewhat poisonous.