Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) is a delicate and pretty plant that produces a delightfully fragrant white flower. While its name would lead you to believe that Lily of the Valley belongs to the lily family, it is actually part of the asparagus family!
It’s a hardy plant that quickly covers the ground and thrives in the shade. Lily of the Valley is a good solution for homeowners who don’t want to mow the grass on a regular basis, but who still want a robust green garden. Dotted with curved wooden benches, a birdbath or two, and some colourful flower beds, Lily of the Valley looks lovely and smells fantastic. What an elegant and low-maintenance alternative to grass!
Lily of the Valley is a woodland flowering plant that is native to Asia and Europe but has been imported around the world. It is often considered an invasive species in North and South America because it grows quickly and will overtake other native vegetation. It has bell-shaped white flowers that emit a sweet fragrance, which makes them a popular choice in any garden.
Also referred to as May Bells, Mary’s Tears, and Our Lady’s Tears, it can be found as an ingredient in perfumes under the moniker muguet (its French name). It was used as an ingredient in medieval medicine, often listed in archaic recipes as glovewort because it was used to treat hand maladies. Lily of the Valley is densely packed with cardiac glycosides, which can cause heart failure in both humans and animals. Exercise caution when planting near children or curious pets.
Common Lily of the Valley cultivars include Rosea, which produces flowers with a slight pink tinge. For white edges, choose Albomarginata, or go with Albostriata for whiteish stripes that fade to green. For a more golden yellow colour, plant Fernwood’s Golden Slippers. Aureovariegata, Hardwick Hall, and Crema da Mint all feature light green stripes across the foliage.
You won’t always be able to find Lily of the Valley in your local garden centre, but thankfully you can find it online. You’ll typically see it sold in two forms: roots with ‘pips’ (the buds of new plants), and in pots, which are easier to grow.
Lily of the Valley will start to bloom in the early to mid-spring, producing sweet little flowers with an intoxicating perfume. They tend to bloom for three weeks to a month. You can grow this plant indoors if you want it to bloom throughout the year.
While you can plant your Lily of the Valley any time of year, providing that the soil is not frozen, it tends to do best in the UK when planted between September and October.
It is easiest to grow Lily of the Valley from a pot (see the method below) before transplanting into your garden. Plant your Lily of the Valley in a shady area of your garden, ensuring that the soil is moist by never waterlogged. Add plenty of well-rotted compost to the area.
Dig a hole that is double the width of the root ball, and add some blood, fish and bone meal, working into the soil. Add the plant to the hole and cover with soil so that the plant is at the depth it was when it was in the pot. Pat the soil down gently, and water well.
If you are planting roots or pips, soak the pips for at least 30 minutes. Dig a hole just slightly larger than the roots and add the roots to the hole (there is no top or bottom to the roots). The top should be less than a centimetre below the soil surface. Gently cover with loose soil, and sprinkle with some blood, fish and bone meal. Water thoroughly.
Lily of the Valley thrives in the shade, but it can do well in the sun, providing that the water amount is increased.
Lily of the Valley prefers moist soil but must never be waterlogged. Do not let the soil dry out, as this will kill the plant. Other than during heatwaves, 2 to 3 cm of water is sufficient each week, either through irrigation or direct watering.
It prefers rich, well-drained soil that remains moist but never waterlogged.
It is easy to grow Lily of the Valley in pots. Choose a deep container, because the plant has long roots that like to spread. You can trim the roots a few centimetres, but don’t go too far. Plant your rhizome in some high-quality potting soil 3 to 6 cm apart and cover the buds with soil. Once planted, place the pots in indirect sunlight, and keep it indoors until early spring before moving it outside.
The following diseases can be addressed with fungicides, or in the case of foliar nematodes, destroying the plant.
Lily of the Valley is rarely bothered by pests because it is highly toxic. However, certain pests can snack on the plants, especially if the weather is hot and dry. Spider mites can cause the leaves to turn yellow, and weevils will occasionally make an appearance. Snails and slugs also enjoy the foliage, leaving ragged holes across the entire plant. While this will not kill the plant, it will slow down its growth.
Hardy in zones 3-9.
Lily of the Valley grows in all types of moist soil, from clay to sandy.
Great for ground cover in the shade – prefers dappled shade but will handle heavy shade cover.
Yes, it remains green year-round.
Yes, it is a straightforward plant to care for, and doesn’t need a lot of care to grow and thrive.
Yes, Lily of the Valley thrives in containers and pots – see above.
Mid-March to May.
Yes, if it escapes your garden it can grow in dense clumps, overtaking natural vegetation.
While Lily of the Valley prefers at least partial shade, it can be adapted to partial or full sun as long as watering amounts are adjusted.
Yes, it is highly toxic and can occasionally result in death. Great care should be taken to keep pets and children away from the plants.
Lily of the Valley is an excellent choice for many gardeners. Is this attractive and easy-to-grow plant right for your garden?
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Penn State (2016). Lily Of The Valley (Convallaria) Diseases. [online] Penn State Extension. Available at: https://extension.psu.edu/lily-of-the-valley-convallaria-diseases [Accessed 16 Aug. 2020].
Tilley, N. (2019). Growing Lily Of the Valley: When To Plant Lily Of The Valley. [online] Gardening Know How. Available at: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/bulbs/lily-of-the-valley/growing-lily-of-the-valley.htm [Accessed 16 Aug. 2020].
Titchmarsh, A. (2014). Small wonder: Alan Titchmarsh on growing lily of the valley. [online] Express.co.uk. Available at: https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/garden/467225/How-to-grow-lily-of-the-valley-in-your-garden [Accessed 16 Aug. 2020].
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Anna is the marketing and office manager for Garden Benches – a premium supplier of high-quality wooden benches and other outdoor furniture.