One of the most beloved plants, lily of the valley makes a strong groundcover for shady places. It is its intense and evocative scent that creates the great affection many a gardener has had for this plant. From brides bouquets to Victorian nosegays, the fresh sweet and compelling fragrance of the tiny bells, so daintily arrayed on the fine green stem, fill the air with its unmistakable identity.
And so it was in my spring garden this year. It was a time of lilacs, and the whole gardening bursting forth with bloom, but above all the scents, one carried itself into my consciousness. “What was that?”, my brain asked, while my nose led me straight to the flowerbed filled shoulder to shoulder with Convallaria majalis.
Starting with just a few plants from my mother’s garden, it has taken a number of years for the beds to spread out to what they are today. My growing conditions aren’t ideal, but in woodland conditions I would expect this plant to take off much more quickly.
Blooming in Mid spring, April through May, the white bell flowers are rounded in shape with a demure scalloped frill at their edge. Spaced evenly along a bright green stem they droop in a measured curtsy as they dispense their incomparable fragrance. The blooms are often half hidden within the curl of the broad fresh green leaves.
Grows 6 to 12 in. tall.
[Growing Lily of the Valley]
Plant between October and March,when they are dormant. In Ohio the fall or early spring are good times to plant the “pips”. They are strong growers and best contained within a space, lovely under trees and shrubs. Some find them invasive, and that is true of all plants in the “groundcover” class when they find conditions to their liking. They are long lived, and I have seen them growing in old abandoned gardens long after the inhabitants have departed.
Loves part shade and moisture. Likes acid soil pH.
Amend soil with organic matter.
Plant the little rhizomes 1 1/2″ apart and near the surface of the soil, just covering. Keep moist. Like most plant that grow from a food storage unit like a rhizome or bulb, you can cut the flowers, but allow the leaves to grow and collect the nourishment needed for next years blooms.
Hardy in zones 3 – 8
It is a symbol of humility in religious painting.
Traditionally, lily of the valley is sold in the streets of France on May 1. the story goes that “Charles IX in 1561 after he was given a small bouquet as a symbol of good luck and Spring time. He was so delighted that he in turn ordered several bouquets to be made up, one for each Lady in his Court.”
The plant is toxic, containing cardiotoxins.
Perfume does not contain the essential oil, but is reproduced artificially.
“If lily of the valley is to be used in vases, it is best to put the whole flower, including the roots, in the water. This will allow you to enjoy it for about 5 days.” –Wedspace
If they have “set buds” you may grow them inside in a pot filled sphagnum moss.
* update After a number of years of growing it now, this plant certainly earns its label as a groundcover. It is a little too vigorous in my coil and is completely taking over a protected bedding spot- vying with the English Ivy! When choosing a plant as a groundcover make sure you want it to take over the spot and choke out other growth… that is the whole point of such a plant.
Otherwise, you might consider it a thug. A very sweet smelling one, but one that elbows out everything else.