April 28, 2012

Plant of the month: Lily-of-the-Valley

Convallaria majalis

Do you have memories of specific plants from your childhood? One of my all-time favorites harkens back to about age 7. Out the back door, surrounding the entrance to my family’s home was a healthy patch of Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis).

When it was in full bloom, nothing smelled sweeter! I have extremely pleasant specific memories about that specific plant in that specific spot. So when the time came for me to pick a spring ground cover for a garden bed at my own house, it was an easy decision.


Here are some specs on Lily-of-the-Valley from the Missouri Botanical Garden:

• Grows well in zones 3 to 8;
• Prefers part shade to full shade;
• Requires little maintenance;
• Prefers medium moisture levels; and
• Tolerates clay soil, dense shade, deer, and rabbits.

I can vouch for that last point! Aside from my childhood memories, rabbit-resistance is a top reason I chose Lily-of-the-Valley for my garden. Any plant this pleasant that also repels rabbits is a winner by me.



Here are other things I know about Lily-of-the-Valley:

• Blooms in Wisconsin’s zone 5 anytime from late April through May, depending on the weather;
• Dominates a garden bed when in bloom; fades back a bit in mid-summer when other plants take the stage;
• Is a great companion for Hostas, and grows well in the same conditions;
• Thrives in gardens with dappled morning sunlight;
• Takes a few years to establish (like other ground covers it tends to sleep, creep, and then leap);
• Enjoys the rich, loamy soil in my garden (but it would probably grow well in any soil type); and
• Is especially lovely when spring raindrops dot its foliage.


One thing to keep in mind is that Convallaria majalis is not native to the U.S. It was introduced from Europe. There is a variety native to the Appalachian mountain area: Convallaria majuscula. But apparently it’s hard to find at garden nurseries. Most advice I’ve read says to keep Lily-of-the-Valley contained, so it doesn’t spread to woodland areas, where it can become invasive. Mine is limited to two small perennial beds near my house.


All I can say is that when it’s in full bloom, it really takes me back to pleasant memories. What plants are favorites from your childhood?


[On another note: PlantPostings is honored to have been nominated an eCollegeFinder Top Garden Blog! (A hearty thank-you to the person who made the nomination!) I’m honored just to be listed with some very distinguished garden bloggers. The vote is on for the top three gardening blogs, and I sure would appreciate your vote.

You can vote by clicking on the badge at the top right of this page, or at: http://bit.ly/Icakzk. Each visitor can vote once during the voting period, which ends Monday, April 30, 2012, at 5 p.m. EST. Thanks!]

35 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your post on lily of the valley. I have some in front of the house that was my mother-in-law's when she lived here. It's in a space where I can keep it in check.

    I have been sick the last 4 days, and have not had much energy. I did muster up enough to do some weeding in the small area next to my vegetable garden, where four o clocks self sow each year. There were a bunch of weeds and other things coming up that I didn't want there, so I sat and took care of that. While doing so, I thought of the four o clocks that my mother grew next to our back door when I was a girl, and thought I'd ask a similar question in a post, and still may, asking people what flowers they grow because of memories they have of them as children.

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    1. Hi Sue: I hope you're feeling better. I can see why Four O'Clocks would be a favorite. It's another one of those plants that seems to belong in a cottage garden. Take care of yourself!

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  2. Konwalie były są moimi ulubieńcami, za śliczne małe kwiatuszki, jak dzwoneczki i za zapach. Pozdrawiam.
    Lilies of the valley were are my favorites, with beautiful little flowers, and bells and the smell. Yours.

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    1. Hi Giga: Aren't they great?! They're the perfect mid-spring ground cover, while the summer bloomers gear up for the warmer months.

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  3. My London-born mother loves Lily of the Valley. I seek it out for her when looking for perfume or lotions and potions. So I was disconcerted when I read about some gardeners battling to keep it under control. My mother did once try to grow a tiny plant here in South Africa, but you need to live somewhere like Elgin, up in the mountains with frost in winter.

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    1. I know--I'm sad that some folks find it invasive. I haven't had any trouble keeping it in check, but it's in a very isolated area of the garden. My image of English gardens always includes a bit of Lily-of-the-Valley.

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  4. Great post about a great plant. I love the scent of these flowers.

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    1. Me, too, Mary! I'm looking forward to having the scent fill my house from tiny bouquets for the next couple of weeks. Yum!

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  5. I've always loved these delicate little blooms. I think the only thing that has stopped me from planting some is that idea of containment...

    As for favorite flowers from my childhood, i have fond memories of a climbing rose with delicate little pink blooms planted by my grandmother that always bloomed on my birthday. And hollyhocks! I never got a start of that rose, but I do have some hollyhocks from those plants from long ago.

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    1. I love Hollyhocks, too! I don't remember them specifically from childhood, but they remind me of old-fashioned cottage gardens. I have some growing on the sunny side of my house and it looks like it's going to be a good year for them!

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  6. Congrats on the nomination and good luck...many of us have been nominated and any would be a wonderful choice...I adore lily-of-the-valley and especially since it is the flower of May birthdays... I hope mine grow in a bit more this year.

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    1. Congrats to you, too, Donna! You are so right--all of the nominees are deserving, including you dear friend. I'm just thrilled to be on the list! Good luck! I didn't realize Lily-of-the-Valley is the flower of May birthdays--special significance, then! Cheers!

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  7. I have lily-of-the-valley planted in two shady spots. I don't think it will become invasive in our woods because we already have other plants (weeds) that have invaded the woods. In fact, I'd really love it if the lily-of-the-valley would crowd out the other weeds, like garlic mustard!

    Two plants that I love from the home I grew up in: flowering quince, which I now have, and Rose of Sharon, which I haven't been able to get going in my zone 4 garden.

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    1. Flowering Quince is really pretty, and I have some sweet memories of Rose of Sharon, too--at my in-laws' house years ago. Yeah, I think Lily-of-the-Valley is acceptable if you keep it under control.

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  8. The lily of the valley always reminds me of my mom and my childhood. Eventhough we can't grow them here in Malaysia, we have talcum powder and perfumes with this fragrance. These are sweet plants that brings back all the sweet memories.

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    1. Awww, sweet. I love the scent, too. It can be kind of strong, but if you get a whiff of it in the air it's just so fresh and refreshing. Thanks for sharing your memories, too.

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  9. Lucky you! My fondest childhood memories are of lilies-of the valley too, but I can't grow them here even though I have tried twice :(. Thank you for the lovely pictures, and for letting me enjoy the flowers through your blog.

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    1. Darn, that's too bad. I wish I could share the scent, too. I just got back from a weekend away and the scent of the little bouquet on my mantel was oh, so welcoming. :)

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    1. They're hitting their peak now, and the scent is amazing! Thanks, Christine.

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  11. Yes, yes, yes (I can smell them as I write) ... my mother's favorite and mine (in my bridal bouquet and men's boutonnieres).

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    1. Great choice, Joey! I can only imagine how pretty your wedding flowers must have been, and you had built-in perfume. Sweet! :)

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    2. 45 years this June 3rd ... the smell still haunts me!

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  12. I remember these plants when I was a kid in WI :-)

    Just wanted to answer your question about the hyacinth bean vine -- I plant them from seed every year. This year seedlings had already started growing and I had to dig them up once the arbor construction started. Then I replanted them once the arbors were finished. Every fall/winter when the seed pods are dried, I just stick them back in the ground right then, and they germinate in the spring like clockwork :-) Easy, easy.

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    1. Thanks, Toni! I need to get going on those seed pods...this weekend! I'm so excited!

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  13. My mother loves lily of the valley. It is her favorite flower and favorite scent. I have not tried growing these for fear the voles may have a feast, but they are so very beautiful. Perhaps I will become brave enough to try with some methods to deter the voles. Congratulations on your nomination! You deserve it!

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    1. Thank you, Michelle! I haven't noticed any vole damage with Lily-of-the-Valley. I suppose an ideal spot would be a raised bed. That would help keep the voles away, and prevent the plants from spreading too much. And I'm honored to be listed with you on eCollegeFinder!

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  14. I do love these bulbs but they can become quite aggressive here in Seattle, ousting out planting space for anything else with their thick mat of stems. I'd actually be quite happy if the voles chewed on these rather than my more precious plants!

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    1. Mine don't have a thick mat of stems yet, and they've been in the garden for a few years. Maybe it's my cold climate with subzero winter temps that keep it in check...

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  15. I love walking by a drift of these plants, the fragrance is captivating. They do multiply like crazy though and many have been plants passed down through time from generation to generation. I had them in my garden from my mother-in-law, but removed them after they became thugs. Your images of them are beautiful, especially those at the plants level.

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    1. I can see how you might want to keep them away from some garden spots. But for a confined area that needs ground cover, they can be a nice addition. And they do smell so sweet!

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  16. How wonderful Beth!! It's so funny, but Lilly of the Valley is "THE" plant that reminds me of my childhood! I grew up in Massachusetts and my grandmother had a huge patch of it in her garden and as I kid I couldn't wait for it to bloom! Number 1, it signified the near end of winter and Number 2, it smelled SOOOO Good! I believe I'm going to plant some of these in my Michigan garden in the fall. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! :)

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    1. Yes, I have similar memories with grandparents, Diane. :) I need to pick a bouquet--they're at their peak right now!

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  17. It's an old plant also for me. :)

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    1. And they're native in your part of the world, Dona. So you're doubly lucky!

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