Lily of the Valley - or Convallaria to give it its botanical name – is one of the best of the low growing herbaceous perennials for either part of full shaded areas. Whilst it prefers a damp or at least moist situation, it is quite happy in dry areas if mulched annually. The mulching aids soil moisture, and also gives the lily of the Valley plants the humus-rich soil that it prefers.
It is a fully hardy perennial, though it loses most of its foliage in the autumn, then to shoot out again in early spring, with small tightly coiled foliage twists developing into the broad lance-shaped leaves that will soon do its job as a ground cover plant. The dark green foliage acts as a perfect foil for the small pendant bell flowers which are so characteristic of this plant, growing no more than 20cms or so.
The paired leaves sprout out at ground level with no or little trace of stems, followed soon by the arching stems of pendant bell flowers.
Lily of the Valley can also be grown indoors for a dainty well-scented display.
It is easy to grow and does a good ground cover job where few other plants are happy. Add to that, the fact that the attractive white flowers are highly scented, and it rarely suffers any pests. It is a reliable herbaceous perennial that is long lived, and will spread slowly by means of the underground rhizome roots.
You can grow Convallaria in virtually any shaded place – especially if it has the added ‘quality’ of being damp or moist. If growing at the foot of a wall, or in a dry-ish shrub area, then it is important to drench the area from time to time in the dormant summer months. Once autumn or winter sets in, they will not require additional watering.
They are on sale as potted plants at most time of the year, but far better to buy them as rhizomes – alongside other bulbs – in the autumn. Plant immediately and water well. The rhizome clump can be planted just below soil surface level, with around 2in – 5cm of soil covering the roots.
The most common, is the basic white version with single bell flowers – Convallaria majalis.
For Variegated foliage, try Convallaria majalis ‘Albostriata’ which has dainty white stripes the length of the individual leaves. Normal white flowers. Not as vigorous as the basic green form, but attractive if grown indoors for a while – see below.
Pink bell flowers are to be had on the Convallaria majalis var. rosea
There are other varieties available from specialist nurseries with upright stems of pendant flowers and many different forms of foliage variegation and colour. Some are taller growing than the norm, up to about 40-60cms.
Grow them outdoors and you will rarely be bothered by any pests attacking them. This may be because all parts of the plant are POISONOUS.
The only interference with their growth is the possibility of botrytis mould in late spring – especially in damp springs. A general fungicide will normally help – if it has Myclobutanil as an active ingredient.
Grey mould – botrytis – normally only affects dead or dying foliage – hastening the effect. Apply a preventative spray in mid spring as flowers emerge, and then observe and act quickly if you see any outbreak.
The easiest way by far, is to dig up and separate the rhizome root system in late autumn. Either re-plant where wanted or grow on for a year in pots.
Lily of the Valley can also be grown from seed. If you manage to save seed from the plant, remove the fleshy outer and sow in cool sheltered place, cold glasshouse, or coldframe in early spring. WEAR protective gloves, and wash hands thoroughly before doing anything else after handling seed.
To grow and flower this perennial indoors, lift the Rhizomes in the early winter – after foliage had died down – and pot up in general potting compost and place in a cool position in the house. Do not try to force too quickly with too much heat.
Keep the pot watered, and after a few weeks, growth will start to push up through the compost. Don’t be tempted to take into a warm room until the flower buds have started to form.
Keep in gentle heat and not on a sunny window sill, or over the top of a radiator. Just cool gentle heat.
You will be rewarded by attractive foliage and pendant racemes of drooping bell-flowers that have a gorgeous scent. Immediately after flowering, let the plant grow cool again until it can be replanted in the garden in early spring.