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Lily of the Valley: Groundcover for Shade

Lily of the valley is one of the many sweet-scented, spring-blooming flowers. Its Latin name, convallaria majalis, is derived from the Latin convallis, “valley” and majalis, “May-flowering.” It’s the official birth flower for the month of May.

wild lily
wild lily

I happened upon a patch of the less common pink ones (convallaria majalis Rosea) and stopped to take their picture. The gardener saw me and insisted on giving me some for my garden. I’ve planted them in a bed that gets shade for part of the day.

Lilies of the valley prefer a shady location that gets only a few hours of sun each day. They like moist soil but don’t like standing water. Make sure the area you plant them in is well-drained and no water sits there after a rainfall.

Grow lily of the valley from “pips,” which are small bulbets that form underground along the roots. They spread easily and will fill up an area in just a few years.

Plant the pips 4 to 5 inches apart in moist, rich soil. Fertilize with a granular fertilizer in spring and mulch with leaf mold in fall. Other than that, your lilies of the valley will pretty much take care of themselves.

Divide them every five years so they don’t choke each other out. Do this in early autumn. Dig up the entire bed. Cut apart the roots so that there is only one pip per plant. Replant 4 to 5 inches apart in all directions and water well. In late fall, mulch the bed with leaf mold or autumn leaves. Remove the mulch in early spring.

Pick bouquets after the first few “bells” have opened, like the one in the photo. That way, the buds near the top of the flower stem will be more likely to open up in the house.

One small bouquet of lilies of the valley will perfume an entire room. Their charming, petite size blossoms are perfect for small vases set on nightstands or the bathroom vanity.

If you have a large patch and enough patience, you can also dry them to use in potpourri. The dried flowers will hold their scent for many years.

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