Sunday, August 09, 2009
Lily of the Valley
There is something very satisfying about the hanging bells effect you get from the various plants that are called ‘Lily of the Valley’. From the tiny little ground-hugging perennials that most deserve the epithet, through to the various trees and shrubs that share the name in common usage, the appeal of the small white campanulate flowers is undeniable.
The true lily of the valley, Convallaria majalis, is a deliciously scented herbaceous perennial that favours shaded and cool spots. It belongs to the lily family and carries small rounded pure white bells on single flowering stems in spring, the stems arriving at the same time as the bright green leaves. The flowers are fantastic for picking - they last well in water and give their scent generously.
I have found this can be a funny character to get established in the garden. It seems to prefer semi-shade, and definitely likes deep, humus-rich soil, but even when provided all these, can still be temperamental about establishing itself. Perversely, once it is happily growing it will proliferate prodigiously, almost becoming a pest.
My mother had this charmer growing in a damp east-facing garden and it flourished, in the same conditions as Cannas and even the dreaded ginger lily, now declared a noxious weed. The garden was certainly very scented for much of the year, with a large tree honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, nearby as well.
I only have the pink form (imaginatively called ‘Rosea’) in my current garden, which is a bit odd, as it is nowhere near as vigorous as the white form. Now is the right time to find ‘pips’, as the dormant rhizomes are called in the trade, for sale in nurseries and garden centres. You should plant these ‘pips’ with the growing tips just showing and about 5 cms apart, in soil with added animal manure.