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.
When the stems push through the soil in spring they look like little brown quills. From these quills the slender green stems rise.
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.
Some clumps in my Blue Mountains garden;
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;
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 sitting room chimney on our farm in Tasmania.
In the language of flowers lily-of-the-valley means ‘The return of happiness.’ How appropriate.