Sprightly Lily-of-the-Valley

    • Mouth-watering strawberries should be planted now for delicious berries this summer. Plant them in a sunny, well-drained bed.
    • For blue hydrangeas, apply 1 tablespoon aluminum sulfate mixed in 1 gallon of water around mature plants this month.
    • Spring vegetables love cool, moist weather and don’t mind a little frost. Set out lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, spinach and Swiss chard starts now.
    • Rhubarb, the “pie plant”, can be planted now for mouth-watering pies for many years to come.

Sprightly Lily-of-the-Valley

The lily-of-the-valley, Convallaria majalis, graces the shade garden with her delicate, nodding, white, bell-shaped flowers each spring. A small, woodland perennial, it reappears each year around the time of spring festivals and Easter.

This herbaceous perennial plant is native throughout the cool temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. It forms extensive colonies, spreading by underground roots called rhizomes, which send up numerous stems each spring. Growth buds along the rhizomes are called “pips”. The flowering stems grow 6 to 12 inches tall, rising from two light green leaves, and each hold 5 to 15 dainty flowers.

The attractive leaves emerge in spring and are quickly followed by pretty white bells that make a lovely cut flower. The fragrance is heavy and sweet. This is one of the most beautifully scented flowers in the garden, and has been used in perfumes for decades. Lily-of-the-valley also has a long history of medicinal uses, and is poisonous if eaten.

Several legends are associated with lily-of-the-valley. According to one legend, the tears Mary shed at the cross fell to the ground and turned to lilies-of-the-valley so the flower is also known as Our Lady’s tears. Other names include May lily, May bells, lily constancy, and ladder-to-heaven.

Lily-of-the-valley likes moist but well-drained soil with added compost or leaf mold. They love a yearly application of leaf mold, peat moss, compost or manure each fall. They can grow in conditions ranging from filtered shade to deep shade such as the north side of a building. They need some winter cold to thrive.

Plant pips 1½ inches below the soil surface and 4 to 6 inches apart. They will need water during the growing season, and should be baited for snails and slugs.

Lily-of-the-valley can be planted amongst grape hyacinths, Muscari, bleeding hearts, forget-me-nots and hostas. The pips are attractive when massed in garden beds or scattered in drifts along a garden walk. As a carpet planting between camellias and rhododendrons, Lily-of-the-valley is ideal since it requires the same garden conditions.

The sweet fragrance and dainty white flowers make lily-of-the-valley very popular as wedding flowers. They can also be brought indoors in a pot where they will bloom in just 3 to 4 weeks so you can enjoy their sweet perfume.

Lily-of-the-valley requires very little care, and you will be rewarded with sweet-smelling bell-shaped flowers every spring.

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