Lily-of-the-valley (convallaria) is surely the most ethereal of the spring flowering bulbs, with a delicate fragrance.  The botanical name is from convallis, which is Latin for valley. It thrives in a cool, semi shaded position.  Here is some cultivation advice published in 1930, but which is just as relevant today;

With most plants that come up year after year it pays to shift them after about three years in the one spot. A striking exception to this rule is the Lily of the Valley. Most of the books on gardening advise the lifting of Lily of the Valley when the roots become crowded, and to sort out the crowns for replanting, dividing them into one, two and three year ones. This advice need only be followed in certain circumstances. If your lilies are thriving, no matter whether they have been anchored in the one spot for 12 or 15 years, there is no need to lift them….What you can do now is water them with liquid cow manure. 

I do lift mine reasonably often, but only because I like to establish them in new areas. Dig plenty of compost into the soil, as they are heavy feeders. Being woodland plants they naturally do well under deciduous trees. The leaf litter rejuvenates them.   However, I also grow them in pots.

We humans are a strange lot. I remember a lady ringing  a garden advice radio show  about these plants.  She asked whether it would be possible to grow them in  sub-tropical Sydney  if she cooled the soil first with blocks of ice! She was told it might be better to grow gardenias instead. Or move to the Blue Mountains (that’s what I did .😎)

Here in Blackheath they have evolved to become as tough as we residents. Note the following little escapees growing in my stone retaining wall.


When the stems push through the soil in spring they look like little brown quills. From these quills the slender green stems rise.

Bowerbird and lily-of-the-valley
Ring the bell, the lilies are up.

My friend Janet sent me this sweet poem, remembered from her childhood;

White choral bells upon a slender stalk,

Lilies-of-the-Valley deck my garden walk.

Oh how I wish I could hear them ring,

That will only happen when the fairies sing.

Lily-of-th-valley fairy.

Some clumps in my Blue Mountains garden;

Morning light
Almost out

Here are some growing slowly spreading under a canopy of trees;


In England there is an old country belief that the fragrance of lily-of-the-valley draws the sweetly singing nightingale from the hedgerows and prompts him to choose his mate. If this  isn’t true it ought to be.

I was surprised and delighted to see bees visiting the little bell flowers;

Bees are attracted to lily-of-the-valley
Editor Des  loves lily-of-the-valley.

The lilies remind me of my mother (in the photo below), gentle and unassuming. She loved them, and grew them in a cool bed below the dining room on our farm in Tasmania.

Lily-of-the-valley  bedside posy.
The perfect bedside posy.

A few years ago my niece Donna sent me a photo of Mum’s lily-of-the-valley bed. It was looking as good as it did back in the 1950s.

Lily-of-the-Valley, still growing where it did during my 1950s childhood on a Tasmanian farm.

In the language of flowers lily-of-the-valley means ‘The return of happiness.’   How appropriate.

  1. There is a superstition in England that you should never plant lily-of-the-valley yourself in your own garden. If someone gives you a plant they should plant it for you, or you ask someone else (not a family member) to put it in the ground. It was believed that if you planted it yourself a family member would die before the end of the year. I always found that a strange belief for such a beautiful flower.

    • Pauline

      Good heavens, Lynne. Let’s hope that down here in Oz it works in reverse and babies are born instead!

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