ISSUE 15  |  Pretty in Pastel

Field Guide: Lily of the Valley

April 14, 2014 6:00 PM

BY Amanda Gutterman

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Lily of the Valley, Convallaria majalis: “The Sweet ‘n Low”

At her tallest, lily of the valley only grows to be 8 inches high, but don’t let her small stature fool you. It would be a shame to underestimate this delicately beaded white flower, with her entourage of shiny green leaves. Not only are lilies of the valley a favorite in wedding bouquets (as far as we are concerned, lily of the valley stole the show from Kate Middleton at the royal wedding), but also strategically useful in the garden. These low-lying flowers and their foliage arrive in early May to provide coverage to distract the eye from fading foliage of early bloomers.

Above: For more photos, see our Gardenista Gallery for images of Lily Of The Valley.

These pearly little blossoms remind us of the first spring dew. While they are sweet, however, they are not completely innocent. Lily of the valley has sometimes been considered an invasive species of plant, taking over vast tracts of forestland to the point where other flowers are unable to compete. Before planting lily of the valley pips in your garden, be sure you are not near protected woodland areas.

Cheat Sheet:

  • One of the few flowers that does not mind shade; plant at the base of trees for a fragrant ground cover.
  • Interplant with daffodils whose leaves can’t be cut back until later in the season, or to mask the bulbs of later-blooming flowers.
  • Can be invasive; plant where you can keep it in check (or where you don’t mind mingling)

Keep It Alive:

  • A perennial that grows from pips, lily of the valley is hardy in zones 2-7
  • Before planting pips, soak them in lukewarm water until they swell, and then trim the root slightly.
  • Easy to grow indoors or in window boxes

Above: For an easy DIY, see Erin’s post: Grow Lily of the Valley on a Windowsill.

The quietly assertive lily of the valley thrives in a variety of soil and moisture conditions. Use this innate determination to your advantage and coax your lilies of the valley to grow indoors on a windowsill, even in a very small, decorative pot.

Above: Kate Middleton’s wedding bouquet featured lily of the valley and jasmine. For more of her wedding flowers, see Ask the Expert: 10 Tips for Wedding Flowers from Kate Middleton’s Florist. Photograph by Jason Lowe.

Celebrating the beginning of May is of national importance in France, and each year, traditionally, it is greeted with a bunch of muguet du bois, or lilies of the valley. Flower shops in Paris will be brimming with these simple white flowers, and farmers will decamp from the countryside to sell their posies out of carts. Why not start a May festival of lilies here on our own soil?

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Above: Shop our Picks for Lily of the Valley.

Looking for more sweet-smelling spring flowers? See our Field Guide archive for Narcissus. Planning an edible garden? We’ve also got Carrots and Lettuce covered.